POLITICS

Congress Passes Bill To Avert Another Government Shutdown

The legislation provided just a fraction of the president’s $5.7 billion demand for border barriers.

WASHINGTON ― With more than 24 hours to spare, a deeply divided House and Senate came together to pass a bipartisan government funding deal Thursday, avoiding another partial shutdown even as neither party sounded particularly ecstatic with the compromise.

The Senate passed the 1,100-page bill in a bipartisan vote of 83-16 Thursday afternoon, and the House approved the measure about six hours later, 300-128, with 109 Republicans and 19 Democrats voting against the agreement, and 87 Republicans and 213 Democrats voting yes.

While the Senate vote was overwhelming, the House result was a little more mixed. Yes, both chambers showed more than enough support to override a presidential veto, but a majority of Republicans voted against the legislation, and Democrats didn’t have enough support to pass the bill without GOP help. Still, short of a sudden but not impossible change of heart, President Donald Trump is expected to sign the legislation later Thursday night.

Trump and other Republicans were always lukewarm about the deal ― just like Democrats ― because the legislation is a true compromise. Trump doesn’t get a “wall,” but he does get $1.375 billion for “bollard fencing,” which he almost certainly will present as wall funding. He doesn’t get to put the fencing wherever he wants, either, and he will have to work in consultation with local governments to construct it, but he does get 55 miles of new barriers.

Both parties also made concessions on funding for detention beds at Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities. Last year, Congress authorized funding for 40,520 beds, but ICE greatly exceeded that number. As of Feb. 10, nearly 49,000 people were in ICE detention.

As part of the spending deal, the Trump administration wanted to provide funding for 52,000 beds, while Democrats wanted to reduce the number to 35,400. Ultimately, lawmakers agreed to gradually reduce detention beds to 40,520 — the same level authorized last year ― by Sept. 30, but provide funding for an average of 45,274, while also eliminating the cap.

Democrats also failed to limit the number of migrants ICE can detain within the U.S. to a daily average of 16,500. They backed away from that request Monday night after pushback from Republicans, meaning that the deal reached this week places no hard cap on ICE’s ability to detain people.

Lawmakers were also unable to reach agreement on backpay for federal contractors and an extension of the expiring Violence Against Women’s Act, so neither will be included. And the bill won’t block Trump’s ability to declare a national emergency ― which he announced Thursday that he intends to do ― or restrain the administration’s “Mexico City Policy,” sometimes referred to as the “Global Gag Rule,” which blocks funding for NGOs offering abortion services or counseling. 

But there are still plenty of wins for Democrats in the bill. The measure delivers a 1.9 percent pay raise to federal workers, provides another $1 billion for the census, and adds $17 billion in funding for new infrastructure projects.

The legislation was the product of a bipartisan agreement on border security that lawmakers reached earlier this week after several weeks of bicameral negotiations. The measure would prevent a second partial government shutdown following last month’s costly funding lapse that forced 800,000 federal workers off the job and cost the economy $11 billion.

Although Trump seemed to indicate in December that he could agree to a government spending bill without funding for his promised border wall as long as discussion resumed in the new year, he changed course at the final hour. The resulting shutdown lasted a record 35 days, sparking turmoil at the nation’s airports and economic strife for many of the government employees and contract workers forced to skip paychecks.

During the shutdown, Trump repeatedly said any deal without $5.7 billion for a wall “doesn’t work.” He was willing to wait “as long as it takes” to get his wall money, he said, even if the shutdown lasted months or years. Trump went so far as to threaten to circumvent Congress by declaring a national emergency along the southern U.S. border, theoretically freeing up Defense Department funding to pay for the project. 

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rejected any spending deal that included a wall, offering instead billions in technological and staffing improvements along the border.

Meetings between both sides produced dramatic headlines, but no real results.

By late January, the White House appeared to be feeling the heat as its representatives began making tone-deaf comments about the shutdown’s human impact. Trump caved to the Democrats, agreeing to a three-week continuing resolution to fund the government through Feb. 15 while both parties in Congress hammered out a deal.

At the time, Trump said he was prepared for a second shutdown ― or to issue a national emergency declaration ― if a deal were not reached by the resolution’s expiration date. McConnell said on Thursday that he supports an emergency declaration over the wall after previously cautioning the president against it.

Trump is also reportedly considering a plan to obtain more funding for his wall via an executive order by shifting unspent federal dollars from areas like disaster-relief projects and military housing.

“I would assume they would take the money in the deal. It won’t be enough. It’ll be well short of [$5.7 billion], and [they’ll] do what we talked about to make up the difference between the appropriated amount and the 5.7,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a top Trump ally, told Fox News this week.

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