The Senate on Thursday hit a speed bump in its effort to pass a measure that would avoid a shutdown this evening and raise spending levels by $300 billion over the next two years, putting agencies at risk of shuttering their doors for the second time in three weeks.
The vote was delayed by a procedural hold up just hours before current appropriations are set to expire, leaving Congress limited time to avoid a shutdown at midnight. The bill would place agencies on their fifth continuing resolution of fiscal 2018, giving lawmakers until March 23 to set line-by-line appropriations for agencies across government.
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The Senate had hoped to send the bill to the House early Thursday afternoon by unanimous agreement, but Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., objected to that plan because it raises spending levels. Paul said he would allow an immediate vote if there were a separate vote on reinstating the current spending caps. If Paul sticks to his plan, the Senate could begin an initial vote at 1 a.m. Friday at the earliest.
"I’m not advocating for shutting down the government," Paul said on Fox News Thursday. "I’m also not advocating for keeping the damn thing open and borrowing a million dollars a minute." He acknowledged there was little he could do to keep the measure from eventually passing, but in the meantime "they're going to have to listen to me talk about it."
An Office of Management and Budget official said Thursday evening the administration was preparing agencies for a shutdown.
"The Office of Management and Budget is currently preparing for a lapse in appropriations," the official said. "As we stated earlier today, we support the Bipartisan Budget Act and urge Congress to send it to the president's desk without delay."
Under the budget deal, a forthcoming omnibus spending bill would give appropriators an additional $63 billion for non-defense agencies, allocating a total of $579 billion for fiscal 2018. Defense spending would increase by $80 billion. In fiscal 2019, non-defense spending would increase by $68 billion to $597 billion.
Members of the Senate gave speeches throughout the day praising the agreement, with Republicans focusing largely on the increased military spending and Democrats praising the relief non-defense agencies will receive from the spending caps instituted by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
“Our middle class has suffered from a Congress that imposed a needless austerity on itself, limiting investment in jobs and education, infrastructure, scientific research, and more,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on Thursday. “This budget deal puts that to an end as well.” On Wednesday when announcing the deal, Schumer said the measure would finally send the sequester caps to “the ash heap of history.”
Senate Democrats relented on their demand that a spending bill be linked to a solution for dealing with the status of immigrants whose protective status on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will soon expire only after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., promised to hold a series of votes on a variety of proposals on the subject. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has promised only to bring to the floor a measure President Trump would sign, leaving Democratic leadership in that chamber in opposition to the spending agreement.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday called on Ryan to “man up” and allow the chamber to vote on an array of immigration-related issues. Pelosi said she would not whip her caucus to vote against the measure, but would let them know why she would not vote for it. She sent a letter to her colleagues Thursday afternoon offering that explanation.
“We cannot allow our success in one part of the discussion to diminish our leverage in another,” Pelosi wrote. “We have always said nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to."
Many conservative House Republicans have said they will not support the bill due to its impact on federal deficits, which Pelosi told her colleagues they could sink the measure if they remained united: “The Republicans do not have the votes to pass this caps bill on their own.”
Ryan pushed for House lawmakers to approve the spending bill so they could move on to immigration issues.
“In order to shift our focus and get on to the next big priority, which is a DACA solution, we gotta get this budget agreement done so we can go and focus on this,” Ryan said.
The White House threw its support behind the bill just days after Trump said he would “love to see a shutdown” if Democrats did not agree to his immigration demands. The endorsement came despite the bill’s spending increase for non-defense agencies. While the agreement would lift domestic budget caps by $63 billion in fiscal 2018, Trump’s budget call for a $54 billion spending decrease domestically. The Office of Management and Budget said in its statement of administration policy Congress should “enact without delay” the cuts Trump has proposed.
“It is critical that the Congress work to decrease non-defense spending in other areas to reduce America’s growing national debt,” OMB said. “The Bipartisan Budget Act provides non-defense discretionary spending levels higher than the administration deems necessary.”
This story has been updated with OMB's acknowledgment that it is preparing for a shutdown.