Budget Deal Facing Senate Slowdown, House Objections

Second shutdown in as many months looms larger

Congress continued to lurch toward another government shutdown on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Congress continued to lurch toward another government shutdown on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted February 8, 2018 at 5:36pm

Updated at 6:47 p.m.Confidence quickly waned Thursday afternoon that a massive $320 billion budget package with stopgap funding needed to avert a government shutdown at midnight would pass quickly as senators lodged procedural objections.

And if House Democratic leaders move from a passive vote-counting effort against the package to an aggressive one — neither chamber may have the time or the votes to pass the package before the current funding bill expires.

GOP senators, speaking on background, confirmed Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is objecting to a time agreement that is needed if the Senate wants to vote later Thursday.

Heading into the 6 p.m. hour, at least one Republican and one Democrat were stalling a vote in the Senate, which could potentially postpone a final vote past the midnight deadline. Though the office of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. — who was holding up advancement of a vote over disaster relief — later confirmed to CQ that he no longer objects.

“All Senator Rand Paul is asking for is a 15-minute vote on his amendment to restore the budget caps. He is ready to proceed at any time,” according to Paul’s spokesman, Sergio Gor.

Watch: Rand Paul Objects to Expedited Vote on Budget Package

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Paul said he is prepared to object past the government funding deadline if he does not get a vote on the budget caps.

“If they want to stay up until 3 in the morning I’m happy to do it,” Paul said on Fox News Channel, adding he spoke with President Donald Trump, and encouraged Trump to help secure the vote by talking to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Paul says he will only get 15-20 votes for his amendment, but if he is blocked from that he’s going to be speaking later tonight about debt and deficits.

Earlier Thursday, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said he expected the package would pass both chambers of Congress before government funding runs out, despite objections from some Democrats that the budget deal does not include a legislative solution for undocumented “Dreamers” and frustration from conservatives that the agreement will further increase the national debt.

The measure would keep the government operating through March 23, giving the appropriations committees time to rewrite all 12 fiscal 2018 spending bills to the higher spending levels. The Senate’s floor procedure could complicate the timing.

“I think we will get this done. I feel good about it,” Ryan said Thursday morning on the Hugh Hewitt radio show.

The Wisconsin Republican said he doesn’t expect to have to violate the so-called Hastert Rule, which is an informal House practice that says a bill should not come to the House floor without a majority of the majority party supporting its passage.

“We are going to deliver our share of support. I feel good about Republicans,” Ryan said.

Last Stand for House Democrats

That was before objections from Paul and Menendez became known, and before House Democratic leaders said they’d whip against passage in that chamber.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she and many House Democrats will vote against the package. She spoke on the House floor for more than eight hours Wednesday to press the case for Dreamers and is seeking a promise from Ryan that he will hold an open amendment process on a bill to address the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Pelosi did not go as far as saying House Democrats would be able to stop the legislation from becoming law.

“It’s a good bill. It’s unfortunate it’s taking place in an insulting way,” she said at a news conference.

Pelosi called on Ryan to “man up and decide that we in the House can have what Mitch McConnell guaranteed in the Senate,” referring to the Senate majority leader’s commitment to a full debate on immigration legislation. She explained that she wants Ryan to commit to what’s called a Queen of the Hill process, which would allow for votes on numerous measures with the one that gets the most support over a simple majority prevailing.

Ryan said during a subsequent news conference that he intends to bring up DACA legislation, but did not commit to any amendment process.

“I know that there is a real commitment to solving the DACA challenge in both political parties. That’s a commitment that I share. To anyone who doubts my intention to solve this problem and bring up a DACA and immigration bill. Do not,” Ryan said. “We will bring a solution to the floor. One that the president will sign.”

The continuing resolution, the fifth since fiscal 2018 began in October, must pass Congress and be signed into law before midnight when current funding expires.

Trump has already indicated he will sign the legislation into law, tweeting on Wednesday that “Republicans and Democrats must support our troops and support this Bill! ”

The spending deal, announced on Wednesday, would increase discretionary spending for defense by $80 billion and nondefense by $63 billion for the current fiscal year and by $85 billion for defense and $68 billion for nondefense in fiscal 2019. Only about $100 billion of that spending is offset. Those offsets include selling off some of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, reducing surplus funds at Federal Reserve Banks and extending visa waiver program immigration fees from 2020 to 2027.

Domestic Spending, Tax Changes

Among the spending increases: $6 billion to address opioid addiction and mental health, $2 billion to the National Institutes of Health and $4 billion to help the Veterans Administration Department address its backlog. There’s $20 billion in infrastructure investment and provisions that would help cotton and dairy farmers.

The deal would also benefit at least two colleges in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, by making changes in the new tax law pushed by Republicans late last year. The tax section includes a one-year extension of tax breaks that expired at the end of fiscal 2016 on a myriad of issues, ranging from higher education tuition deductions to mortgage debt forgiveness and payments to Puerto Rican rum producers.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the net budgetary impact of the bipartisan budget deal would be about $320 billion over 10 years, including the combined effect of discretionary spending cap increases, tax and health care provisions, supplemental disaster aid and a variety of user fee extensions and other offsets.

Some of the “pay-fors” were running into objections as well. Senate Banking Chairman Michael D. Crapo, R-Idaho, said he wanted to remove an offset that would tap Federal Reserve surplus funds by lowering the required balance held by reserve banks from $10 billion to $7.5 billion.

The legislative package also would suspend the debt limit through March 1, 2019, and includes $89.3 billion in disaster aid to assist states and territories damaged by severe hurricanes and wildfires.

Ryan told reporters on Capitol Hill that the hurricane aid is “one-time spending” that is necessary to help disaster victims, while other increases in domestic spending such as science research and addressing the opioid crisis are things “that we all agree on.”

The floor procedure is complex. The Senate had to first shut off debate on a House-passed, full-year defense spending bill, set it aside and then move to consideration of the budget deal and extension of government funding.

The plan was then to substitute the package into a funding bill passed by the House on Tuesday. If the Senate does not reach unanimous consent for this process, a cloture vote on the package would occur on Friday — after government funding lapses — and then the legislation would go back to the House for a final vote.

Lindsey McPherson, Niels Lesniewski, Doug Sword and Joe Williams contributed to this report.