House votes on spending bill to keep government open

House votes on spending bill to keep government open
House votes on spending bill to keep government open

Congress Thursday appeared poised to effectively evade the last-minute threat of a government shutdown, with the House passing a bill to keep the government open through Jan. 19 and the Senate poised to follow suit late Thursday or early Friday.

The spending bill – which included a $2.85 billion down payment aimed at keeping the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program operational as well as reauthorizing federal surveillance powers – passed after House leadership was able to convince a group of Defense hawks including Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, to overcome their reservations about the spending bill.

Turner said House GOP leadership had secured their support for an earlier bill by promising that a December spending bill would include full-year Defense funding, but, in a Wednesday night meeting on Capitol Hill, GOP leadership acknowledged that they wouldn’t have the votes to pass such a measure.

Instead, in a meeting Thursday morning, GOP leadership and defense hawks were able to agree on a short term boost of $5 billion while Congress prepares for its new Jan. 19 deadline to pass another spending bill.

Turner said he’s hopeful that after the House comes back in January, it will be able to reach a two-year budget deal that will eliminate mandatory spending cuts for Defense that are part of federal law.

The final House vote was 231-188. The delegation’s four Democrats – Reps. Tim Ryan of Niles, Joyce Beatty of Jefferson Township, Marcy Kaptur of Toledo and Marcia Fudge of Cleveland – opposed it. Among Ohio Republicans, only Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, opposed it. Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth, did not vote.

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Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, said he was disappointed that the House was passing another short-term funding bill and also disappointed that it did not address a program that keeps children brought to the U.S. as immigrants from being deported. “We need to be making strategic investments in education, infrastructure, and our national defense–something these continuing resolutions do not allow,” he said.

Separately Thursday, the House also approved an $81 billion emergency spending bill aimed at paying for hurricanes and wildfire relief. The bill passed 251-169 with 70 Democrats crossing the aisle to support the Republican bill. Fifty Republicans, including Reps. Warren Davidson of Troy, Steve Chabot of Cincinnati and Jim Jordan of Urbana opposed that bill. Renacci also missed that vote. The remaining Ohio Republicans supported it while all four Ohio Democrats in the House opposed it.

The bill was finished hours before the federal government was scheduled to run out of cash – midnight on Dec. 22.

Though Republicans managed to escape the most scathing criticism about the possibility that they’d allow the Children’s Health Insurance Program to expire just days after passing tax cuts criticized as disproportionately aiding large corporations and wealthy Americans, some Democrats said the CHIP patch was not enough.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the $2.85 billion in funding would effectively pay for the three months since the program has expired – basically, doling out back pay for unpaid obligations. “This provides no certainty to states that are running CHIP programs,” he said, speaking in front of a photo of Noble Lett, a Dublin first grader who suffers from a rare genetic disorder. Lett’s mother, Crystal, came to D.C. in July to lobby for an extension of the CHIP program, telling Brown that the CHIP program helped make the difference between her family living a middle-class lifestyle and living under the poverty line.

“Congress had time to hand out massive tax cuts for rich Americans and big corporations, but they didn’t have time to help these families,” Brown said. “It’s a disgrace.”