An effort by GOP leaders in Congress to force action before a holiday break on a series of major issues melted away like a snowman on a warm day, as lawmakers voted to fund the government into the New Year, postponing final action on billions in disaster relief and other items, leaving a number of Republicans gritting their teeth as they went home.
With funding running out on Friday night, the House took the first step to avoid a government shutdown by voting 231-188 for a short-term spending extension until January 19, which could put the Congress in the same position four weeks from today.
“This is like living Groundhog Day over and over again,” said Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), expressing aggravation that lawmakers always seem to be in a rush to make a series of difficult policy decisions right before the holiday break.
A few hours later, the Senate voted 66-32 in favor of the four week funding measure, allowing members to return home to their families for the holidays.
“It’s the status quo, it’s what we always do,” said a somewhat frustrated Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL). “We kick that can down the road, and put in artificial deadlines, and then we panic and scream.”
Unable to push through bills this week which would have fully funded the military, extended certain intelligence surveillance powers, dealt with children’s health insurance programs and more, the Congress instead will extend those for varying periods of time, pushing those fights into 2018.
“This is not the way to govern,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
“The Republican majority has made a complete mess of the basics of governing,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), as Democrats blasted the GOP in the final day of legislative work in what has been a tumultuous political year.
But enough GOP lawmakers followed the lead of their leaders, and voted for the temporary budget – though some made clear they would not do that again in mid-January.
The plan also included a provision that warded off automatic budget cuts, which would have been triggered by the GOP tax bill that was approved earlier this week. That could lead to President Donald Trump signing that bill into law in coming days.
Meanwhile, the disaster relief bill only got halfway home, as the House approved it $81 billion relief measure, but the Senate decided to delay action until next year.
“This is so desperately needed, I know for a fact in our state of Florida with the ag industry,” said Rep. Ross of Florida, noting the damage done by Hurricane Irma to his state’s citrus growers.
The House vote was 251-169 in favor of the disaster relief; most Democrats voted against the plan, arguing it was not enough to help those in need.
In the Senate, the decision to delay action on the disaster measure disappointed those with many constituents in need.
“Texas experienced the worst flood event in United States history,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said of the damage from Hurricane Harvey, which stalled out over the Houston-Galveston area for days.
“The damage to our state is over $120 billion,” Cruz said, saying the estimate could be as high as $180 billion, arguing that even more aid is needed from the federal government.
Few lawmakers seemed pleased with the final numbers on the disaster bill, which at $81 billion, was almost double the size of what the Trump Administration had proposed – a $44 billion plan that had been met with bipartisan scorn.