Congress averts shutdown for now

The House and the Senate voted Dec. 7 to extend government funding through Dec. 22 as appropriations negotiations continue.

Shutterstock image: U.S. Capitol at dusk.

The House and the Senate voted Dec. 7 to fund the government through Dec. 22, avoiding a partial shutdown that would have come Dec. 8.

The House passed the continuing resolution largely along party lines by a vote of 235-193. The Senate then passed the measure by a vote of 81 to 14.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of the no votes, complained that Congress was taking too long to pass a bill allowing for a temporary suspension of budget caps that would trigger sequestration in the defense budget.

"Now into the third month of our fiscal year, we must once again pass a continuing resolution while we await a budget agreement," McCain said. "That is both disappointing and unacceptable."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) explained in a Dec. 7 press conference that Democrats were united against the measure, but said, "I think this is fairly a non-event. They either have the votes or they don't have the votes today. But we have been outspoken about what our priorities are."

Pelosi also said Democrats would oppose any appropriations package that fully funded defense under the recently passed defense bill without similarly increasing funding for the rest of federal government above fiscal year 2017 spending levels.

The two-week continuing resolution now goes to President Donald Trump to sign. Assuming it is signed, the House and Senate now have some breathing room in which to work out an appropriations package. However, lawmakers are facing the same roster of political problems that kept them from reaching agreement by the Dec. 8 deadline.

Those challenges include legal status for immigrants in the U.S. under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the status of the Children's Health Insurance Program and an extension of spy powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Added that will be any political fallout from the tax bill that is expected to move through the reconciliation process and go back to the House and the Senate for a vote.

A few agencies have updated their shutdown guidance, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, the General Services Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Commerce, as well as a host of small agencies. But most cabinet-level agencies still have contingency plans dating back to 2015.