House passes stopgap spending bill, averting shutdown

The U.S. House of Representatives easily passed a stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown, giving lawmakers another week to hammer out a deal on the federal budget.

The Senate is expected to pass the measure Friday night for President Donald Trump's approval. Appropriations bills authorizing federal spending were set to expire Saturday.

Though Republicans control both houses of Congress, Democratic votes will be needed to pass a final budget, marking the first time the parties have had to come together on an agreement for major legislation since Trump took office.

The Hill reported a deal is close, but there are still two major sticking points that remain between the parties: Whether to craft a bailout package to resolve Puerto Rico's debt crisis and a healthcare package for coal miners demanded by lawmakers from several coal-heavy states.

The two largest potential barriers to a deal have been removed by the Trump administration. Democrats in the Senate promised to block funding for Trump's border wall despite initial demands by the administration that the budget provide a "down payment" to begin construction. Trump later backed off that demand.

Democrats also compromised after demanding that Congress include payments made by the federal government to health insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act. Republicans have called the payments illegal and a lawsuit over them is winding its way through the federal courts. In the meantime, Trump threatened to halt the payments to force Democrats to compromise on his effort at healthcare reform.

The two sides compromised when Democrats backed off their demand for the payments to be codified in the budget after Trump promised to continue making them without congressional approval.

Once passed, the spending bills avert a potentially embarrassing symbolic moment for Trump. Saturday, the day the federal government would go dark, is his 100th day in office.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks to reporters on his way to the house floor to vote on a stopgap spending bill on Capitol Hill in Washington on Friday. The bill prevents a government shutdown for one week. Photo by Erin Schaff/UPI



Congress passes short-term funding bill to avoid government shutdown

WASHINGTON — With just hours left until a government shutdown at midnight, Congress passed a stopgap funding bill Friday that will keep the government open for another week.

House members voted 382-30 to approve the legislation, which gives lawmakers until midnight on May 5 to try to reach a compromise on legislation to fund the government through the rest of fiscal year 2017, which ends Sept. 30. The Senate approved the weeklong funding bill by voice vote Friday, and President Trump has said he will sign it into law.

"The fact that we are here again at the last minute just trying to keep the government open is sad," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. "Once again, we have a manufactured crisis at the edge of a cliff."

Congressional leaders and the White House wanted to prevent an unpopular shutdown, which would have closed national parks and monuments, delayed tax refunds and furloughed thousands of federal workers. The shutdown would have taken effect Saturday — Trump's 100th day in office — unless Congress acted.

"Today's measure shows the American people that we are making a good faith effort to keep our government open." said House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas. "While this is not ideal, I support this effort to provide our colleagues with more time to reach a final agreement on legislation to fund the government through the fiscal year."

Democrats decided to support the stopgap measure after it became clear that House Republicans would not force a vote this week on a new version of their bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and other Democrats said they would vote against the weeklong bill to fund the government if GOP leaders went ahead with a health care vote.

Hoyer said he feared that Republicans were trying to push the bill through to give Trump a big victory for his first 100 days. However, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said he would not bring the health care legislation to the floor until he is sure he has the votes to pass it. Many moderate Republicans expressed concern this week about the latest version of the bill.

Federal programs would continue to be funded at existing levels under the stopgap measure approved by Congress. The resolution would also extend health care benefits for retired union coal miners through May 5. There is bipartisan support for making those benefits permanent.

The government has been operating on a temporary spending bill that Congress passed in December to fund agencies through April 28.

Lawmakers will return to work Monday with just five days to reach a deal or face another possible shutdown. Two major stumbling blocks to a compromise were largely resolved this week.

On Tuesday, Trump backed off his demand for immediate funding for a Southwest border wall, deciding to fight for money in the 2018 budget instead. Democrats had warned that the issue would result in a shutdown because of their fierce opposition to the wall. Some border-state Republicans also oppose the barrier, calling it expensive and ineffective. The Department of Homeland Security has estimated that the wall will cost nearly $22 billion, but Democrats have said the price tag could be as high as $70 billion.

On Wednesday, the White House backed off its threat to stop paying federal subsidies that help low-income Americans pay for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Democrats want language in the final bill to ensure that subsidies owed to health insurance companies under Obamacare are paid so that insurance premiums don't increase for low-income families by 15% or more. Trump had threatened to withhold the payments to force Democrats to bargain on a health care bill to replace the ACA, but White House officials said Wednesday that those payments will continue.

However, other sticking points remain.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said there are still disagreements over a rule that requires financial advisers to act in the best interests of clients saving for retirement. Democrats want to protect the rule in the funding bill but Republicans want to scrap it, saying it is confusing and burdensome.

Democrats also are seeking health care funding for Puerto Rico, which is expected to run out of Medicaid money this year, resulting in nearly 1 million residents losing their medical coverage. Trump has denounced Democrats' efforts as a taxpayer "bailout" of Puerto Rico. The U.S. territory receives less than half the Medicaid funding that states receive.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said he believes Republicans and Democrats can reach a bipartisan deal next week to fund the government through September. House leaders have said they intend to introduce a funding bill Monday night, setting up a vote on Thursday.

"I'm confident we'll be back here with a bill the American people can be proud of," Cole said.

Despite his concessions, Trump is expected to win support for increased defense spending and border security that does not include the wall.

Trump sent Congress an emergency request for $33 billion in the 2017 bill that included $30 billion in extra spending for defense and combat operations and $3 billion for border security, including the wall. Congress is likely to give the president more than $15 million in additional defense spending and some extra money for border security.


U.S. Congress passes short-term bill to avert government shutdown

The Republican-led Congress averted a U.S. government shutdown on Friday and gave lawmakers another week to work out federal spending through Sept. 30, with tricky issues like defense spending still unresolved.

The Senate passed a stopgap spending bill by voice vote without opposition after the House earlier approved it by a tally of 382-30. President Donald Trump later signed the legislation, preventing a shutdown of many parts of the federal government on Saturday, his 100th day in office.

The bill provides federal funding through May 5, allowing lawmakers to hammer out legislation in the coming days to keep the government funded for the rest of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

Congress for months has been tied in knots trying to untangle $1 trillion in spending priorities. Lawmakers were supposed to have taken care of the current fiscal year appropriations bills by last Oct. 1.

Democrats backed the stopgap bill a day after House Republican leaders again put off a vote on major healthcare legislation sought by Trump and opposed by Democrats to dismantle the 2010 Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare, after Republican moderates balked at provisions added to entice hard-line conservatives.

Republicans, already facing accusations from the opposition Democrats that they are unable to govern even though they control Congress and the White House, are motivated to avert the first government shutdown since 2013, but contentious matters remain on a spending bill covering the final five months of the fiscal year.

With Trump seeking $30 billion in new defense spending in the measure and Democrats arguing that other domestic programs also need more money, congressional negotiators are moving toward a compromise.

Republican and Democratic negotiators have discussed a possible $15 billion defense spending hike, half of Trump's request, according to two congressional aides familiar with the matter. It was unclear whether Democrats will continue to insist other domestic programs get a similar funding increase. Such equal treatment was at the core of some previous funding deals.

Unlike the simmering fights in Congress over healthcare and taxes, in which Republicans are pursuing purely partisan legislation, major spending bills generally need bipartisan support for passage, lending some optimism that the negotiations will end next week without a federal shutdown.

House and Senate appropriators were expected to work through this weekend, but there were no guarantees they would be able to find common ground that would prevent parts of the government from shutting down on May 6.

Congressional negotiators also have been struggling over funding to make a healthcare program for coal miners permanent and whether to plug a gap in Puerto Rico's Medicaid program, the government health insurance program for the poor.

'BIT MORE TIME'

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the stopgap bill, which kept funding at current levels, "will carry us through next week so that a bipartisan agreement can be reached." McConnell said he expected the House by the middle of next week to approve and send to the Senate the spending bill for the remaining five months of the fiscal year.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said there were still significant differences with Republicans over elements of the looming longer-term spending bill but "we're willing to extend things for a little bit more time" in hope more progress can be made.

The No. 2 House Democrat, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, said he would oppose any more temporary spending bills for this year.

During debate in the House, lawmakers expressed frustration at the inability of Congress to take care of the basic functions of government in a timely manner.

"We are seven months into the fiscal year," said Representative Nita Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. "Federal departments and agencies have been operating on outdated funding levels and policies for more than half of the year. This is unacceptable and it cannot continue."

Lowey noted that this was the third stopgap spending measure passed since the fiscal year began last October.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters aboard Air Force One the White House feels "very good" about getting the funding extension next week through the end of the fiscal year.

Trump earlier bowed to Democratic demands that the spending legislation for the rest of the fiscal year not include money to start building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border he said is needed to fight illegal immigration and stop drug smugglers.

The Trump administration also agreed to continue funding for a major component of Obamacare despite Republican vows to end the program.

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