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Congress Passes Delayed Budget Deal Ending Hours-Long Shutdown

The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington DC on Jan. 3, 2018. Nicholas Kamm—AFP/Getty Images

Congress passed a two-year budget agreement early Friday that will boost federal spending by almost $300 billion and suspend the debt ceiling for a year, ending a brief partial government shutdown that began at midnight when lawmakers missed a funding deadline.

The 240-186 House vote overcame opposition from many Democrats and a faction of GOP conservatives. The measure goes to President Donald Trump, who has promised to sign it, restoring funding before most government workers arrive at their jobs and financial markets open. The Senate passed the bill hours earlier, 71-28.

The drama played out against a backdrop of tumbling global stock markets. The benchmark S&P 500 index fell 3.75 percent Thursday — down more than 10 percent since its Jan. 26 peak. Stocks in Asia declined in Friday trading.

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The budget accord got delayed in the Senate past the midnight deadline despite a strong endorsement from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and backing from Trump.

Senator’s Protest

Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, protesting the huge spending increases that are central to the deal, delayed action for most of Thursday by demanding a vote on an amendment to keep existing budget limits in place.

“If you were against President Obama’s deficits and now you’re for the Republican deficits, isn’t that the very definition of hypocrisy?” he said, adding later, “Are we to be conservative all the time or only when we’re in the minority?”

Objections to increased domestic spending were also raised by a group of Republican conservatives in the House. Representative Mark Meadows, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus called the deal “fiscally irresponsible.”

The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, analyzing a report from the Congressional Budget Office, said the deal would add a net $320 billion to deficits over a decade, or $418 billion counting the additional interest costs. That’s in addition to the estimated $1 trillion added to the deficit over a decade by the Republican tax cut legislation passed in December.

Democrats Object

On the other side, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called the agreement “a good bill” but said she would vote against it because House Speaker Paul Ryan refused to promise an open debate and vote on immigration legislation. Many — though not all — Democrats lined up behind Pelosi.

Representative Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, urged his party to kill the spending bill unless it also protected young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children and have been shielded under the soon-to-end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. He said that if the legislation passed, “all the leverage is gone” to force a solution for the young immigrants.

Ryan’s Pitch

Ryan made a public pitch for votes on Thursday, emphasizing the increased funding for the Pentagon to assuage the concerns of Republicans who said they would vote no because the plan also raised spending on domestic programs. But his promise to bring up an immigration bill “that the president will sign” fell short of demands from Democrats.

Before the Senate adjourned just before 2 a.m. McConnell set up a procedural vote for Monday on shell legislation that will be used as the vehicle for the chamber’s debate on immigration. That was a key part of his agreement with Schumer that ended the last shutdown and led to the budget deal.

The budget measure, H.R. 1892, will temporarily finance the government at current levels through March 23 while lawmakers fill in the details on longer-term spending, which includes raising the caps on defense spending by $80 billion over current law in this fiscal year and $85 billion in the one that begins Oct. 1. Non-defense spending will rise by $63 billion this year and $68 billion next year.

It’s filled with long-stalled or long-sought priorities for both sides. Republican defense hawks get more funds for the military, while Democrats get extra money for domestic priorities like combating opioid addiction, the National Institutes of Health budget and community health centers.

The agreement also repeals a piece of Obamacare — a Medicare cost-cutting board aimed at ensuring the program’s long-term solvency. And it provides $90 billion in disaster assistance for California, Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The bill authorizes the sale of 100 million barrels from the Strategic Oil Reserve to pay for some of the new spending, and raises customs and airport security fees in the next decade. It also renews a number of expired tax breaks for calendar 2017 including for cellulosic biofuel, while extending a nuclear power tax credit that was scheduled to expire so that it is available after 2020.

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