Senate Passes Short-Term Spending Bill To Avoid Shutdown

The Senate passed a bill that keeps the government funded through the beginning of February, but fails to provide any funding for the President's border wall.

With hours to go before a government shutdown the Senate stepped into the breach last night, passing a short-term spending bill that keeps the government open through the beginning of February but denies funding to the President’s border wall:

Moving to head off a looming government shutdown, the Senate passed a stopgap spending bill on Wednesday night that would keep the government funded through Feb. 8 — and would punt the impasse over a southern border wall to the new year and a divided Congress.

The bill, which quickly passed by voice vote after senators were corralled back to the chambers, was expected to pass the House on Thursday and be sent to President Trump before the midnight Friday deadline, when funding would lapse for nine federal departments.

The measure poses an uncomfortable political problem for Mr. Trump among his far-right supporters, even though it remained unclear if the president, who has been a volatile factor throughout the spending debate, would sign such a measure without the $5 billion he has demanded for a border wall.

Mr. Trump appeared to back away from the demand in recent days, and conservatives were already condemning the president’s seeming capitulation on his signature campaign promise.

The political commentator Ann Coulter denounced a “gutless president,” the Fox News host Laura Ingraham lamented that the “big beautiful wall” would now be “an open door with no frame,” and Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, warned that his party needed to keep its promise to build the wall.

Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said Mr. Trump was doing himself “major” political damage by relenting in the wall fight.

“They’re very concerned that he’s not fulfilling his campaign promise,” Mr. Meadows said of voters, describing the hundreds of phone calls his office received on Wednesday protesting the president’s apparent retreat. “They believe it’s a promise that the president said he would keep.”

Other Republican lawmakers acknowledged that without wall funding included in the stopgap spending bill, they had lost their last foreseeable vehicle to secure funding for the wall, and that they would hand Representative Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, a triumph before the speaker’s election in January.

“I never believed we had a chance to go forward,” said Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana. “I was never as sanguine as some about the possibility that Mrs. Pelosi would risk her speakership to fund President Trump’s wall.”

“It’s been clear to me,” he added, “that at least on this issue, Mrs. Pelosi has been running the show.”

Republican lawmakers have struggled to find a compromise between Mr. Trump’s demands and Democratic opposition to spending money on a concrete wall at the border, a final dose of dysfunction in the waning moments of a Republican majority in Washington.

“I’m sorry that my Democratic colleagues couldn’t put the partisanship aside and show the same good-faith flexibility that the president has shown in order to provide the resources our nation needs to secure the integrity of our borders as well as the safety of American families,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said Wednesday morning on the Senate floor.

Democrats, two weeks away from taking the House majority, have refused to budge from the offers they had laid out for the president, which included up to $1.6 billion for border security, but nothing for the border wall.

“The American people know the president’s wall is ineffective, expensive and only serves as a political bone to his most conservative supporters — certainly not worth a government shutdown,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said in a statement after the floor vote.

By declaring he would “own a shutdown” in a contentious televised Oval Office meeting last week, Mr. Trump had deprived Republican lawmakers of their ability to pin responsibility for a shutdown on the Democrats. But in the past two days, White House officials have signaled a softening of that position, and Mr. Trump appeared to hedge his position in a series of tweets on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“I don’t believe the leader would bring it up if he hadn’t had some assurance that the president would sign,” Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama and the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said of Mr. McConnell. “But you never know.”

The bill would not only maintain funding for the departments and agencies covered by seven spending bills that have not passed, but it would also extend a number of programs set to expire, including the Violence Against Women Act, the National Flood Insurance Program and critical Medicaid provisions.

Avoiding a partial government shutdown was a welcome prospect for lawmakers, particularly given the holiday timing and the number of lawmakers who await retirement at the end of the session or have quietly left after their November defeats. More than 70 members from both parties were missing from votes in the House on Wednesday night.

The bill would not only maintain funding for the departments and agencies covered by seven spending bills that have not passed, but it would also extend a number of programs set to expire, including the Violence Against Women Act, the National Flood Insurance Program and critical Medicaid provisions.

Avoiding a partial government shutdown was a welcome prospect for lawmakers, particularly given the holiday timing and the number of lawmakers who await retirement at the end of the session or have quietly left after their November defeats. More than 70 members from both parties were missing from votes in the House on Wednesday night.

Politico has more, including what appears to be a clear signal from the White House that the President will sign off on the bill notwithstanding his previous insistence that he would shut the government down if he didn’t get funding for the border wall:

The Senate passed a short-term spending bill on Wednesday night to avoid a partial government shutdown, kicking a fight with President Donald Trump over border wall funding until next year.

The legislation was passed by voice vote and will keep the government open until Feb. 8, provided the House will pass it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Senate will remain in session on Thursday pending House action on the spending bill; on Wednesday evening conservatives in the House urged the rejection of the legislation because it shorts the border wall.

“We have to see what the House does with what we just sent them,” McConnell said. Senators have been urged to stay in D.C. on Thursday by party leaders.

But the House is expected to vote on the package Thursday — a full day ahead of the deadline — and there it will likely have broad support from both parties, according to multiple aides.

With Trump softening his demands for $5 billion for the wall in the waning days of the GOP Congress, McConnell (R-Ky.) worked to avoid a political blunder four days before Christmas. Democrats and some Republicans had advocated for longer-term deals on all the government departments except for the Department of Homeland Security, but Trump’s demands for $5 billion in border wall funding have made broad funding deals difficult.

Instead the chamber decided to defer the fight until next year, when Democrats will take over the House.

“It’s good that our Republican colleagues in the Senate finally realized that they should not shut down the government over a wall that does not have enough support to pass the House or Senate,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

(….)

It has been a week of about-faces for the White House that have induced whiplash on Capitol Hill. Though Trump declared he would absorb the blame if he didn’t get the wall funding he has been demanding, it now appears he is willing to sign a short-term funding measure.

Leaving lunch with Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said the president would sign the bill if it remained clean.

“He’s not happy about having to do this, but he’d be especially unhappy if there were other things people were asking for,” he said.

Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to the president, told Fox News on Wednesday morning that the “president is not going to back down” from his fight for border security, but she declined to rule out Trump signing the stopgap spending bill. “We’ll see what the Senate and the House present to the president,” she said.

Though White House aides insist the president is not backing down, their public statements appear to be easing the way for him to keep the government open even if he doesn’t get the money he wants for a border wall.

Conway gave the latest indication of that on Wednesday. “The [continuing resolution] to keep the government going until Feb. 8 is what they’re looking at now, but that does not change whatsoever two important facts. One, that this president believes his first and solemn duty is to keep us safe, and that includes enhanced border security,” she said. “And second, it does not change the fact that this border is so porous that all it’s done is gotten worse since those Democrats voted for border security 12 years ago. So this president is not going to back down from that.”

While the Senate is ordinarily the most difficult of the chambers of Congress to get legislation through, in this case it was relatively easy because Senate Majority Leader McConnell was able to obtain unanimous consent for the bill and allow it to pass on a voice vote on an expedited basis rather than go through the ordinary cloture process that would have required as many as three days before a bill could get to a final vote. With unanimous consent, McConnell was able to skip over all of that and get the bill passed in a matter of hours after the consideration of a handful of amendments, most of which involved funding for other projects and most of which appear to have been defeated. If nothing else, this is an example of how the Senate’s rules are more flexible than they might appear to be from the outside providing that the two parties can agree on a path forward as they did here.

From here, of course, the spending bill goes next to the House of Representatives where it should be voted on some time today, although that has not been confirmed as of yet. In all likelihood, the measure will sail through the House about as smoothly as it did through the Senate since members of the House are as eager to get out of town before Christmas as their Senate colleagues and there appears to be little appetite for either Republicans or Democrats to pick a fight over individual elements of the bill, something that is far more difficult in the House than the Senate in any case. There are some signs that some elements of the House GOP Caucus may try to engage in a last-ditch fight to save border wall funding, but the odds that will succeed seem slim at best.  Additionally, the fact that the final bill will not include funding for the border wall means that it’s likely that Democrats will join in with Republicans in supporting the funding bill so they can get out the door by the end of the week.

The final player in all of this, of course, is the President. Based on his rhetoric last week, one would think that the President would be prepared to veto this measure because it does not provide funding for his border wall but it seems clear that he is backing down on that issue. If that is the case then it effectively means that the border wall is dead for the foreseeable future. If he isn’t going to get funding for the wall out of this Congress, then he’s surely not going to get it out of the next Congress where Democrats are going to control the House of Representatives as well as maintaining filibuster options in the Senate. The White House is unlikely to admit this, of course, but this is effectively what all of this means. We will continue to hear about the border wall from the President, of course, because it’s a popular issue among his base but the idea that it’s ever going to actually come to fruition, at least before the 2020 election, can safely assumed to be a settled issue.

Update:he will not sign the Continuing Resolution that passed the Senate Trump being Trump, things are not going as smoothly as they seemed they would this morning. The President is now saying that unless $5 billion in border wall funding is added to it. So, it’s back to the drawing board.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Congress, Deficit and Debt, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Tony W says:

    Thank goodness the Republicans were able to negotiate with the Republicans and keep the Republicans from shutting down the Republican-controlled government.

    A win for democracy!

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  2. @Tony W:

    Technically this Senate bill also required at least some Democratic consent in order to get past a cloture vote. The GOP could not have done this on their own, which is why the Senate bill omits the border wall funding.

    ReplyReply
  3. Tony W says:

    @Doug Mataconis: True, but where’s the snark in that?

    ReplyReply
  4. Teve says:
  5. Kathy says:

    When you control the White House and both houses of Congress and can’t get your legislative agenda passed, you’re obviously doing something wrong.

    Unless your plan is:

    1) Do nothing
    2) Blame the Democrats
    3) Win reelection

    ReplyReply
  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kathy: The problem is, trump doesn’t control the House, he doesn’t control the Senate, and he sure as shit doesn’t control the White House. The wall may have been on trump’s agenda, but I would bet quite a few House and Senate Republicans are more than a little relieved to see it whimper and die.

    ReplyReply
  7. Teve says:

    Pelosi and Schumer were willing to give Trump a few billion for the wall. Trump’s just the worst negotiator ever.

    ReplyReply
  8. Liberal Capitalist says:

    … but her emails the wall!

    Seriously, the loyal troops are dropping like flies.

    Ann Coulter:

    Trump will “just have been a joke presidency who scammed the American people, amused the populist for a while, but he’ll have no legacy whatsoever,” without the wall, a campaign promise the administration appears to be walking back ahead of the potential government shutdown.

    “Either Trump never intended to build a wall and was scamming voters from the beginning or he hasn’t the first idea in how to get it done and no interest in finding out,” Coulter told The Daily Caller. “My prediction is his support will evaporate and Trump will very likely not finish his term and definitely not be elected to a second term.”

    Not surprisingly, Trump unfollowed her on Twitter.

    ReplyReply
  9. Kathy says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    El Cheeto certainly doesn’t act as though he knows his party controls both houses of Congress. He repeatedly blames the Democrats for the repeated failures of his legislative battles.

    ReplyReply
  10. Kathy says:

    Now the Orange Jell-o Blob (patent pending) is apparently walking back the walk-back. No link, because it’s live updates on CNN and subject to change according to how the whims blow (yes, I said whims).

    Someone ought to tell Dennison no one likes an indecisive leader. Brinkmanship is a high-risk tactic (see the Cuban Missile Crisis). Not only as far as actual outcomes are concerned, but also, and for Mr. Jell-o Blob far more important, in the public’s perception. You can get into a position where you’ll look weak if you back down to avoid disaster; but would look worse, though not weak, if you don’t back down and plow straight into disaster.

    That’s bad enough. If you back down, then back down the back down, then back down the back down of the back down, you look awfully indecisive.

    ReplyReply
  11. CSK says:

    @Kathy:

    Aw, he’s just demonstrating what a master dealmaker he is.

    ReplyReply
  12. Teve says:

    Maggie Haberman is now saying that Trump is in a quote tailspin about the CR. Me, I think Trump will sign it, because he’s fundamentally lazy and he wants to play golf this weekend.

    ReplyReply
  13. just nutha says:

    “I never believed we had a chance to go forward,” said Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana. “I was never as sanguine as some about the possibility that Mrs. Pelosi would risk her speakership to fund President Trump’s wall.”/“It’s been clear to me,” he added, “that at least on this issue, Mrs. Pelosi has been running the show.”

    The fact that you guys cannot circle your own forking wagons is neither Minority Leader Pelosi’s fault nor problem.

    ReplyReply
  14. just nutha says:

    @Teve: No he’s not. His recalcitrance is going to get rid of the dreamers for us and that’s almost as important as the border (or is that boarder?) wall. MAWA!

    ReplyReply

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