Congress Acts Swiftly To Avoid Government Shutdown (UPDATE)

It's amazing how quickly Congress can accomplish things when lawmakers want to get back to campaigning.
Stopgap government funding that was blocked in the Senate Tuesday passed the chamber Wednesday.
Stopgap government funding that was blocked in the Senate Tuesday passed the chamber Wednesday.

WASHINGTON ― After weeks of delays and haggling, the House and Senate passed a measure Wednesday that would fund the government until Dec. 9 and allow lawmakers to return to the campaign trail.

The Senate voted 72-26 to pass the so-called continuing resolution, or CR, Wednesday afternoon, and the House followed late in the evening, approving the bill 342-85. The measure now heads to the president’s desk, more than 48 hours before the government was set to shut down over a funding lapse.

The path for the bill was cleared late Tuesday, when Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) agreed to add Flint funding to a water resources billDemocrats had expressed concern that Flint would get stiffed in a conference committee to reconcile the two chambers’ different versions of that legislation later this year. By adding Flint language to the House bill, however, the disagreement between the two measures is only over $50 million. (The Senate passed provisions that would indirectly help Flint victims with $220 million, while the House bill approved $170 million for purposes to be determined later.)

That water bill passed the House Wednesday afternoon, and, after the November elections, is expected to be conferenced with a version of the water bill that the Senate passed earlier in September. 

Ultimately, the complex arrangement for Flint solved the last remaining hurdle for most members. In the Senate, 14 Republicans and 12 Democrats voted against the bill, while in the House, 75 Republicans and 10 Democrats opposed the legislation. Republicans voting against the bill generally disagreed with the term of the legislation ― they preferred a measure that would kick spending decisions past the lame-duck session ― and Democrats opposed the bill because it did not directly provide relief for Flint.

What the CR does do, however, is extend government operations past Sept. 30 and give lawmakers time to come up with a broader spending deal when they return in November. On top of ongoing government operations, the bill also includes $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus and $500 million for flood relief in areas such as Louisiana. The bill also appropriates a small amount of money ― about $7 million, to be exact ― to implement legislation combating the opioid epidemic.

The bill does not include provisions to block the Obama administration from turning over power on internet domain names to an international agency. Some lawmakers, most notably Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), had hoped to stop the administration’s plan.

The bill also does not touch the quorum threshold for the Export-Import Bank. Most Democrats, even some Republicans, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), had wanted the CR to allow the Ex-Im Bank to make loans greater than $10 million even if the board did not have a quorum. (Currently, the Ex-Im Bank can’t approve those types of loans because three of its five board seats are vacant, and some Republicans in the Senate plan to oppose filling any of those vacancies in an effort to strangle the export credit agency.)

Democrats have also taken issue with a provision that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was able to insert into law last year that blocks the Securities and Exchange Commission from disclosing “dark money” campaign contributions. Democrats had wanted to strip that language this year from any spending bill, but it appears they weren’t willing to risk a shutdown over provisions that simply extend current law.

Democrats were especially pleased by what they saw as significant victories in the compromise, however. Chief among them was securing the Zika funding with no prohibition against Planned Parenthood using the money. They also managed to strip riders that would have rolled back environmental protections and would have weakened trucking safety regulations.

Michael McAuliff contributed to this report.

This article has been updated to include the House vote.