POLITICS

House Extends Government Funding To Avoid Shutdown

*Almost* the least they could do.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speak with each other at a news confe
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speak with each other at a news conference with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients to discuss the Supreme Court case concerning the program on Nov. 12, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON ― Republicans and Democrats stepped aside from the heated debate over impeachment Tuesday to do their most basic duty: Continue funding the government.

The House voted 231-192 on a bill that would extend current funding levels until Dec. 20, with 181 Republicans and 10 Democrats voting no, and 12 Republicans and 219 Democrats voting yes. (Independent Justin Amash of Michigan also voted no.)

With appropriators still stuck on a number of issues ― most significantly: President Donald Trump’s border wall ― Democrats and a handful of Republicans gave more time to the members negotiating a long-term deal. (Current government funding runs out on Nov. 21.)

Lawmakers struck an odd tone Tuesday. They bemoaned that this continuing resolution was confirmation that “Congress is not getting its work done,” in the words of Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), because this temporary extension represented failure on a larger deal. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said passing this bill was a “recognition of failure.”

But many lawmakers also celebrated the bipartisan bill and its extraneous riders. 

“This legislation avoids controversial policies and instead contains provisions that reflect shared priorities,” Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said.

Contrary to the usual calls for a “clean” continuing resolution, this bill was loaded with new provisions and extensions.

The most controversial extension was one for expiring portions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The bill would reauthorize three provisions in FISA until March, effectively decoupling government funding from the FISA debate.

Of particular note are the broad authorities to wiretap terrorism suspects. The so-called “Section 206” provisions allow the government to conduct “roving” wiretaps so that they can thwart suspects who are, for example, switching cell phones. The bill would also reauthorize the ability of the FBI to examine the business records of terrorism suspects, as well as a “lone wolf” provision that gives the FBI greater authority to go after terrorist suspects who are not connected to any country or group.

“Yesterday, Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi said the president has ‘abused his power for his own personal, political benefit,’” Amash tweeted Tuesday. “Today, she wants to extend the president’s power to do warrantless surveillance of Americans.”

Concerns over reauthorizing those FISA sections was enough for Amash to vote no, as well as some progressives. 

When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) saw the inclusion of those provisions, she summoned the words of former “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson: 

Aside from the FISA provisions, the bill also includes a number of other reauthorizations and changes. It would reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. It would give the Census Bureau money ― at an annualized rate of $7.3 billion  ― to prepare for the 2020 Census. It would extend a number of health care programs, including funding for community health centers, which many Republicans oppose over concerns of family planning. It would also block the government from taking back $7.6 billion from states in highway funding, which Republicans also oppose. 

As a carrot for Republicans and Democrats, the bill lays the groundwork for a 3.1% pay raise for the military next year. It would also allow people who have received money from a Sept. 11 compensation fund to also apply for money from a state-sponsored compensation fund for terrorism victims. And, as is customary in Congress, it would include a year’s salary ― $174,000 ― for former Rep. Elijah Cummings’s widow, Maya Cummings, who is running to replace the longtime Baltimore lawmaker who died in October.

Still, the overwhelming majority of Republicans voted against the continuing resolution, even though failure to pass the short-term bill would result in a shutdown. The ranking Republicans on the Appropriations Committee, Kay Granger of Texas, said Congress had a responsibility to get a long-term deal done, which was why she was voting no.

But Democrats said their responsibility was to keep the government funded.

Rules Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) mentioned a number of extensions he liked, while also noting the inclusion of some he didn’t like, such as the FISA provisions. But, he said, shutdowns cost the government and the American people billions of dollars.

“The choice before us today is whether we are going to vote to cause a repeat of that devastation, or not,” McGovern said.

The one-month funding extension became necessary to avert a government shutdown because Senate appropriators have still not reached agreement over a full omnibus bill. The biggest hurdle remains Trump’s proposed border wall. Democrats want to give Trump as little as possible for the wall, while Republicans and the president himself want billions to build a wall as quickly as possible.

Republicans and Democrats agreed to overall spending numbers in July ― $738 billion for defense and $632 billion for non-defense programs ― but they’ve been deadlocked on how to divvy up those numbers among the various programs.

With another month, lawmakers hope they can work out a deal to avoid a shutdown that would, perhaps more importantly to the lawmakers, keep them in D.C. over the holidays.

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