Government Shutdown Averted — Until the Holiday Season

WASHINGTON – Congress, following weeks of maneuvering, scheming and the resignation of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), passed a stopgap spending measure Wednesday just hours before the federal government would have been forced to shut down.

The measure, a continuation budget that will keep the wheels turning until Dec. 11 at the latest, passed the Senate 78-20 before making its way through the House, 277-151, where it met stern opposition from conservative lawmakers.

Every vote opposing the plan in the lower chamber was cast by members of the Republican majority, a sign of dissatisfaction within the ranks over spending priorities and a side debate over abortion. Only 91 Republicans supported the last-minute settlement.

President Obama signed the resolution Wednesday evening.

The 11th hour rush was necessary because the new federal fiscal year begins on Oct. 1 and lawmakers had failed to pass any of the appropriations measures that fund governmental functions. The additional time will provide the House, Senate and White House a bit more time to work out their differences and come up with a funding plan.

Passage wasn’t a sure thing. The measure needed overwhelming support from the Democratic minority in the House in the face of GOP opposition.

Most Republican lawmakers opposed the plan because it failed to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, which has been caught in a controversy over the recovery of tissue from aborted fetuses that is then sent to laboratories for research purposes. Undercover video released by an anti-abortion group, the Center for American Progress, appears to show a Planned Parenthood official dickering over charges for providing the tissue in contravention of federal law.

Planned Parenthood asserted the video was doctored and that it can, under the law, charged for expenses related to the recovery, maintenance and shipping of the tissue. But that did little to assuage conservative Republicans on the issue.

“Here we are, with another last-minute resolution that fails to capitalize on the hard work that’s been done,” said Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.), who voted against the proposal. “It doesn’t move us closer toward reining in federal agencies or their ineffective, inefficient programs, and it continues funding an organization engaging in despicable acts of disregard for innocent human life.”

Young said passage of the resolution may constitute the “path of least resistance,” but that it only “prolongs problems that will cost us more tomorrow.”

But House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, blasted GOP opposition, claiming that 151 Republicans “voted to shut down government rather than allow women to access affordable family planning and life-saving preventive health care.”

“One-hundred and fifty one Republicans decided their obsession with women’s health was more important than the thousands of disabled veterans, disadvantaged children and working families who would pay the price of another government shutdown,” Pelosi said. “Tonight’s vote highlights the astounding, toxic radicalism of the Republican majority. It exposes the depths of their contempt for women’s health and their total indifference to the priorities of hard-working American families.”

The vote also created bitterness on the Senate side. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said the vote was “a win for the Washington cartel, and another setback for the American people.”

“Republican leadership chose to abandon its constitutional power of the purse and to fund 100 percent of President Obama’s failed agenda,” Cruz said. “This was a mistake, and it’s why people are so frustrated with Washington.”

Cruz also expressed disappointment over the continued funding of Planned Parenthood, noting that the organization is “under multiple investigations after being filmed apparently committing an ongoing pattern of felonies. The federal government should not be financing the illegal sale of body parts of unborn children, en masse, for profit.”

The measure, known as a continuing resolution, also drew fire from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who, like Cruz, is seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

“What is a continuing resolution?” Paul asked. “It is a continuation of the deficit spending of the past. It is a continuation of the waste. It is a continuation of the duplication. What is a continuing resolution? It is a steaming pile of the same old same old. Let me be clear. A continuing resolution is not a good thing. It is more of the status quo. It is a warmed-over version of yesterday's failures. It is an abdication of congressional authority. It is an abdication of congressional power.”

Now that the continuing resolution is out of the way, negotiations between the House, Senate and White House are expected to begin soon. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, is advocating for a deal that would set funding levels over the next two fiscal years, hoping to avoid the sort of friction that comes from a presidential campaign. Four Republican members of the Senate – Cruz, Paul, Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina – are seeking the nomination.

Regardless, arriving at a spending agreement will prove difficult, especially regarding long-term government funding. The White House and congressional Democrats, for instance, want to ease caps currently implemented on defense and domestic spending. Republicans want to keep them in place.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, said he is open to discussion.

“We have a lot to do in the coming weeks and months and we certainly don’t have time for any more manufactured crises,” Reid said. “I sincerely hope Republican leadership will instead choose to do what is right and work with Democrats to meet our country’s obligations.”

Boehner announced he was stepping down last week in part to avoid an intraparty war over the continuing resolution. By doing so, the Speaker could offer a proposal that could pass with a combination of Republican and Democratic votes, thus keeping the government open. Boehner said he made the move for the sake of the body and to protect his supporters.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California, the odds-on favorite to replace Boehner in the Speaker’s chair, voted in favor of the continuing resolution, as did House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, of Louisiana, who is running to replace McCarthy. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee who is seeking the same position as Scalise, voted against it.