Congress’ efforts to avoid another shutdown feature last-minute deals
Updated at 7:20 p.m. with House vote.
Washington — To avoid another government shutdown, the U.S. House on Tuesday passed a spending bill that would fund the Pentagon until the end of the federal fiscal year – with big boosts for the Connecticut defense industry — and keep other federal agencies running until March 23.
The vote on the bill was 245 to 182, with all Connecticut members of the House voting “no.”
The largely partisan approval of the GOP bill that contains $659 billion for defense — and short-term funding for most of the rest of the federal government — is just one maneuver in a complex budget dance between congressional Republicans and Democrats this week that also will feature a face-off between the House and Senate.
President Donald Trump also has a role to play, and the president has been critical of key negotiations because they don’t include funding for his proposed wall between the United States and Mexico.
The House bill also would fund a federal grant program for community health centers, which provide health care in Connecticut largely to Medicaid patients and the uninsured. The program has been underfunded since Oct. 1, the beginning of the federal fiscal year.
But the centers’ grant program would be paid for by stripping money from an Affordable Care Act public health program that helps states like Connecticut run immunization and smoking-cessation programs. That has been criticized by House Democrats, most of whom also oppose the boost in funding for the Pentagon without a similar increase in domestic spending and the lack of long-term funding for all of the federal government.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, condemned the effort to once again fund the government through a short-term bill, known as a continuing resolution, or CR. There have been four CR’s since Oct 1, the beginning of the federal fiscal year. The current one runs out on Thursday.
“We are the greatest nation in the world, yet the incompetent majority has us caught in an endless loop — lurching from crisis to crisis without regard for the important issues facing our country. The American people deserve better,” DeLauro said.
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, said, “Our couple-of-weeks-at-a-time system of budgeting costs taxpayers money, shortchanges our military, and is entirely dysfunctional. Congress should stay in Washington until the work is done.”
While the bill was approved in the GOP-majority House, it is not expected to make it through the Senate, which is considering another approach.
Bipartisan progress on a budget that would end the need for another short-term spending bill has been made in the Senate.
Senate Democrats agreed to negotiate the fate of young immigrants, known as dreamers, separately from the budget talks and Senate Republicans agreed to lift budget caps on domestic spending as well as defense spending.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he “is hopeful that we will reach a result that will address all of the issues.”
For Blumenthal those are raising domestic spending as much as defense spending, full funding for community health centers, money to combat opioid addiction and additional funding to help the victims of last year’s hurricanes.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., flatly rejected the House’s approach.
“This idea that Republicans can expect Democratic votes without taking us into consideration is ridiculous,” Murphy said. “(Republicans) waste a whole lot of time talking to themselves.”
Like the House CR, the Senate deal, also would include increased defense spending, but not as much.
It would probably increase the number of F-35s the Pentagon purchases this year to about 90. The Senate deal also would provide $5.2 billion for the Virginia-class submarine program, $842 million in advance procurement money for the Columbia-class sub program and boost the number of Black Hawks and other military helicopters made by Stratford-based Sikorsky.
But a deal crafted in the Senate may be rejected by the House, unless House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., allows it to be approved with a majority of Democratic votes.
There also has been progress this week in an effort to help nearly 800,000 immigrant youth whose protections from deportation are expiring because President Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in September. Most of these youth were brought to the United States illegally as infants and young children by their parents.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Christopher Coons, D-Del., have proposed legislation that would grant permanent legal status to the dreamers. About 8,000 of them live in Connecticut.
The senators’ plan calls for increased security along the U.S-.Mexico border, but stops short of appropriating $25 to $30 billion Trump wants for border security, including a border wall. The bipartisan bill also would fail to curb family-based immigration — which Republicans call “chain migration” — or ending a diversity visa program Trump wants eliminated.
Trump tweeted his opposition to the plan Monday, then on Tuesday he said he’d welcome a government shutdown.
“I’d love to see a shut down if we can’t get this stuff taken care of…If we have to shut it down because the Democrats don’t want safety…let’s shut it down,” Trump said.
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