Shutdown Update: Senate Takes First Step to End Shutdown

Shutdown Update: Senate Takes First Step to End Shutdown

The Senate voted early this afternoon to proceed with consideration of a Continuing Resolution (CR) that would resume government funding and allow the government to reopen.  Many government agencies and activities began to close down on Saturday when the Senate voted against proceeding with the CR.  Several steps remain before the issue is settled, but it appears that Congress and the White House are on track to approve a CR that would extend funding for three more weeks, until February 8.  Another government funding bill will be needed thereafter.

The government has been funded by a series of CRs since FY2018 began on October 1, 2017.  The third CR expired on Friday at midnight.  The House passed a fourth CR on Thursday, extending funding to February 16, but Senate Democrats voted against proceeding with consideration of that bill Friday evening.  The third CR expired, which meant activities funded by annual congressional appropriations no longer had money to spend and had to be suspended.  It was over a weekend so was not very noticeable at first, but became more prominent this morning as many federal workers had to report for duty just long enough to close their offices in an orderly manner and then go home.

Senate Democratic Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (New York).

Senate Democrats were insisting that they would not agree to another CR until the status of immigrants who were brought to this country illegally as children was resolved — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or “Dreamers” issue.  Over the weekend, Senator Republican Leader Mitch McConnell took a procedural step to schedule a vote today at noon on a revised CR that would shorten its duration to February 8, but took no action on DACA.  He promised that he would bring a separate immigration bill to the Senate floor for debate in the near future, but it was not part of the CR.

Just after the appointed hour today, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer announced that he had decided to accept McConnell’s promise and would vote to proceed with debate on the CR.

Schumer’s decision is being hailed by some Democrats as the right course of action because a government shutdown is bad for everyone and the bill also reauthorizes the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for 6 years, another Democratic priority.

His decision is being harshly criticized by others, however, as giving in too easily with nothing in return except a promise that an immigration bill will be debated in the Senate.  That is not a guarantee as to what provisions will be in the bill or that it will pass the Senate, or be considered in the House, much less pass there.  If Congress did agree on legislation, there also is no guarantee that the President would sign it.  That was the primary reason Democrats were trying to attach the issue to the appropriations bill, using the need to fund the government as leverage.

The noontime vote today was 81-18 to proceed with debate on the CR.  It was not a vote on the CR itself.  Of the 18 no votes, 15 were Democrats, 1 was an Independent (Bernie Sanders), and 2 were Republicans (Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky).  At press time, the Senate was voting (slowly) on the CR itself.

Assuming the CR passes the Senate, it must go back to the House for another vote since the Senate changed the duration from February 16 to February 8.  The two chambers must adopt identical legislation.  If the House agrees, it then must go to the President for signature.   It is possible all of that could happen today and the government could return to regular business tomorrow.

The CR only extends funding until February 8.  Congress has not passed any of the 12 regular FY2018 appropriations bills yet, or agreed on  how much money the government may spend in FY2018.  At the moment, total spending is capped by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA). While there is broad agreement in both parties that the caps must be raised, there is no agreement on whether they should be raised both for defense and for non-defense spending, or by how much.

The upshot is that another impasse is possible three weeks from now.

Check back here for updates on this evolving story.

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