Funding bill to keep US government open narrowly passes House

The House of Representatives has narrowly passed a bill to fund the government in an attempt to avoid a government shutdown.

By a vote of 230-197 on Thursday night, the House passed a bill to fund the government through 16 February. The legislation also extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program (Chip) for six years as an incentive for Democrats to support it. But it does not address the so-called “Dreamers”, the undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and are poised to lose protections from deportation in March.

When the US Congress fails to pass appropriate funding for government operations and agencies, a shutdown is triggered. Most government services are frozen, barring those that are deemed “essential”, such as the work of the Department of Homeland Security and FBI.

During a shutdown, nearly 40% of the government workforce is placed on unpaid furlough and told not to work. Many, but not all, are non-defense federal employees. Active duty military personnel are not furloughed. Read more

Making protections permanent for Dreamers has been a top Democratic priority for funding the government. Without these provisions only six Democrats voted for the legislation.

The bill now has to be approved by the Senate, where it needs 60 votes to avoid a filibuster. Democrats have sufficient votes there to block the legislation. If no agreement is reached by Saturday, the federal government is poised to shut down. It will leave many federal workers on furlough and only “essential” functions of the government, including the military, will operate. The last time the government shutdown was 2013 and it lasted 16 days.

The Senate began the night in acrimonious debate on the topic as top Republicans and Democrats exchanged verbal jabs over who bore the blame for the showdown. Democratic leader Chuck Schumer expressed the hope that a short-term deal could be reached to fund the government for several days in order to reach a broader accord on immigration.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island told the Guardian that a short-term deal was “the only option unless we can get something done very quickly but I think that that’s the likeliest outcome”. However, Republicans saw this as a sign of weakness.

John Kennedy of Louisiana told the Guardian. “That was the first time I’ve seen Chuck blink. I didn’t quite know what to make of that. I think that’s an encouraging sign, I’m not sure that it will pass.”

The House only reached a deal after making key concessions to conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus which included the promise of a separate vote on increasing military funding in the coming days.

Conservatives had expressed concerns that the bill would be the fourth short-term extension of government funding since the end of the last fiscal year in October 2017.

Democrats have publicly worried that no action will be taken to protect Dreamers unless the provision is attached to a must-pass bill such as government funding. A potential bipartisan agreement appeared to be close last Thursday before a contentious White House meeting where Donald Trump referred to countries in Africa as well as Haiti as “shithole countries” and instead argued that the United States should only accept migrants from nations like Norway. The resulting controversy further hardened partisan lines on the already contentious issue of immigration.

Republicans immediately sought to blame Senate Democrats for any potential shutdown. At a brief press conference, House speaker Paul Ryan pointed a finger directly at Schumer and began preemptively casting blame. “Senator Schumer, do not shut down the federal government,” said Ryan “Do not jeopardize funding for our military and our national security. Do not jeopardize funding for Chip. It is risky, it is reckless, it is wrong. I ask American people to understand this, the only people standing in the way of keeping the government open are Senate Democrats.”

Democrats took a different view. Republicans control both chambers of Congress as well as the White House and no government shutdown has ever occurred under this scenario. Senator Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, found the premise of Ryan’s argument ridiculous. “You know, it’s hard for anybody with a straight face to say Republicans control the presidency, the House and the Senate, I hope Democrats don’t close us down.”

Powered by article was written by Ben Jacobs in Washington, for on Friday 19th January 2018 03.33 Europe/ © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010