WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump signed a short-term spending bill Thursday to keep the government open through late December, staving off a shutdown that would have begun at midnight.
Trump’s signature on the stop-gap spending bill came following Senate passage of the legislation on a bipartisan 74-20 vote. The House passed it earlier in the week in the midst of public impeachment hearings.
Without the legislation, government funding would have expired Thursday at midnight, forcing multiple agencies to begin to close down operations and send federal workers home.
The bill extends government funding through Dec. 20, setting up a fight over money for Trump’s border wall that could happen around the same time the House is voting on articles of impeachment against the president.
It is the second stopgap spending bill Congress has been forced to pass to keep the lights on in government for the 2020 budget year that began Oct. 1.
Congress is supposed to pass 12 annual spending bills to fund the military and federal agencies, but lawmakers have yet to agree on a single one of them for 2020. Instead the spending process has again sunk into dysfunction, even though Congress and the White House passed a broad budget deal over the summer that extended the debt limit past the 2020 election and set top-line spending levels for the military and domestic agencies.
That deal was supposed to make it easier for Congress’ spending committees to write their bills. But negotiations quickly descended into partisan bickering over the terms of the deal. Looming over it all is Trump’s demand for billions for his border wall, the same issue that caused a record-long 35-day government shutdown last winter. Aides have studied the possibility of diverting the money from existing funds if Congress does not approve more, a step the administration took earlier this year — over bipartisan opposition — after Trump declared a national emergency at the border.
Trump and Senate Republicans want $5 billion for the wall, but House Democrats included no such money at all in the spending bills they passed. It remains unclear where a compromise might lie. By extending funding through Dec. 20, lawmakers hope to give themselves time to come up with a deal on that issue and others that would allow them to pass full-year bills to fund the government for the rest of the budget year that ends Sept. 30, 2020.
Hopes for such a deal look highly uncertain, but the alternative is to extend funding at current levels through the remainder of 2020, which would cause the Pentagon and domestic agencies to miss out on billions of dollars in budget increases. That’s an outcome lawmakers in both parties would like to avoid. It’s also possible that Congress could end up cobbling together a package of some full-year spending bills while extending other agency budgets at current levels.
“We could get it all done if we work together,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Alabama. “If we don’t work together, if we continue to slow-walk, we’ll be where we are today.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-New York said he was optimistic passage of the short-term “continuing resolution” Thursday would be “something Congress can build from, a sign that appropriators from both sides of the aisle are ready to work together to settle government funding by the end of the calendar year.”
In addition to the funding extension, the spending legislation includes a grab-bag of other provisions, including a 3.1 percent military pay raise and money to conduct the Census. It also extends some expiring provisions of the USA Patriot Act.