U.S. Congress votes to end brief government shutdown

Rand Paul

WASHINGTON,  (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives joined the Senate early today in approving a bill to end an overnight federal shutdown, sparing Republicans further embarrassment and averting serious interruption of the government’s business.

The stopgap funding and budget measure, approved by a 240-186 House vote, will go next to President Donald Trump. The White House said in a statement that he will sign it into law, which would extend government funding through March 23.

The shutdown, which started at midnight, was the second this year under the Republican-controlled Congress and Trump, who played little role in attempts by party leaders earlier this week to head it off and end months of fiscal squabbling.

Rand Paul

A carefully crafted, bipartisan stopgap funding and budget package was introduced with confidence earlier this week by Senate leaders, who predicted swift passage before the expiration at midnight on Thursday of current funding authority.

But in an unexpected turn of events, the deadline was missed because Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul, objecting to deficit spending in the bill, engaged in a nine-hour, on-again, off-again protest and floor speech that leaders could not stop.

Paul’s dissent dragged the Senate proceedings into the wee hours past the deadline, underscoring the persistent inability of Congress and Trump to deal efficiently with Washington’s most basic fiscal obligation of keeping the government open.

“Republican majorities in the House and Senate have turned the (budget) process into an embarrassing spectacle, running from one crisis directly into the next,” said Democratic Representative Nita Lowey prior to the House vote.

After an all-night session of debating and voting, the bill ending the shutdown finally won House passage only after Democrats provided enough votes to offset the opposition of 67 Republicans, a remarkable rebellion in the party’s ranks.

While Paul’s performance in the Senate strained the patience of his colleagues, he focused on the same concern that caused so many House Republicans to oppose the bill – deficit spending.

The budget bill raises military and domestic spending by almost $300 billion over the next two years. With no offsets in the form of other spending cuts or new tax revenues, that additional spending will be financed by borrowed money.

That part of the overall package was a bipartisan attempt by Senate leaders to end for many months, at least beyond November’s midterm congressional elections, the fiscal policy quarrels that increasingly consume Congress.

But the deficit spending in the bill will add more red ink to Washington’s balance sheet and further underscore a shift in Republican thinking that Paul was trying to draw attention to.

Once known as the party of fiscal conservatism, the Republicans and Trump are quickly expanding the nation’s budget deficit and its $20 trillion national debt.

Their sweeping tax overhaul bill approved in December will add over 10 years an estimated $1.5 trillion to the debt, an accumulation of past years of annual budget deficits.

The $300 billion in spending included in the bill just approved will ensure the annual budget deficit will exceed $1 trillion in 2019, said the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a private fiscal policy watchdog group in Washington.

“I ran for office because I was very critical of President Obama’s trillion-dollar deficits,” Paul told fellow senators.

“Now we have Republicans hand in hand with Democrats offering us trillion-dollar deficits. I can’t … in good faith, just look the other way because my party is now complicit in the deficits. Really who is to blame? Both parties,” he said.

Paul voted for the deficit-financed tax bill in December.

 

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