Senate Passes Short-Term Bill to Avoid Government Shutdown

Will U.S. Make Budget Deadline?
  • Measure financing government through Dec. 16 needs House Vote
  • Lawmakers negotiating as full-year accord remains elusive

The Senate passed a stopgap measure on Thursday to avoid a potential U.S. government shutdown this weekend, as talks continue on a $1.1 trillion spending plan and separate legislation to revive dozens of tax breaks.

QuickTake The Debt Ceiling

The measure, passed by voice vote, would finance the government through Dec. 16. It requires approval by the House, which plans to vote on it on Friday, hours before current funding is set to expire.

Second-ranking Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas said the text of the full-year bill is expected to be filed Monday. “A few outstanding issues” remain unresolved, he said. Both chambers may vote on the measure Wednesday.

Lawmakers and the White House are negotiating over a list of policy changes that Republicans insist on adding to the spending bill, including lifting a 40-year-old ban on the export of most U.S. crude oil, and blocking Syrian refugee resettlement in the U.S.

House Democrats announced their own demand on Thursday, which would use the spending bill to remove a nearly two-decade-old ban on gun violence research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We must insist that we cannot have a bill leave the station that still has that ban on research in it,” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, appearing with other Democratic lawmakers at an event featuring family members and victims of gun violence.

“My understanding is they will need Democratic votes” to pass the spending bill, Pelosi told reporters later in the day. “So they will have to come to terms to do this.”

In October, a two-year budget plan that also raised the U.S. debt limit was passed with 187 Democrats and 79 Republicans voting in support and 167 Republicans in opposition.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, said the gun research issue is among items under discussion. He said text of the spending bill may be released this weekend to prepare for a House vote by the middle of next week.

“It is my hope and expectation that a final, yearlong bill will be enacted before this new deadline,” Rogers said Wednesday.

Two Fiscal Measures

Congress is simultaneously negotiating two fiscal measures -- one that would fund the government through September 2016, and another that would extend several dozen expired tax breaks. The bills aren’t connected in any substantial way, except that lawmakers are now using horse-trading on the tax legislation to help reach a compromise on the spending measure.

With the 2016 election nearing, Republicans want to avoid a repeat of the 16-day federal government shutdown in 2013 that hurt their standing in public opinion polls.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican, said in a statement Thursday that negotiations “are progressing steadily."

On the tax extensions, Republicans are pushing to make a number of business incentives permanent. Those include the business research and development tax credit, and a break that allows small businesses to take a larger depreciation allowance for an asset’s value during the first year after purchase, said Cornyn and Representative Steve Stivers, an Ohio Republican.

Democrats, meanwhile, seek a permanent extension of the current Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the college-tuition tax credit, which are set to expire at the end of 2017. The tuition tax credit provides as much as $2,500 per student for people with adjusted gross incomes as high as $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for families.

Sales Tax Deduction

Among other items awaiting renewal is a sales tax deduction that’s popular in Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming because those states don’t tax income.

Some Democrats want at least a 10-year extension of wind and solar tax breaks in exchange for lifting the ban on U.S. crude oil exports as part of the spending bill, Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said Wednesday.

Senator Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, told reporters he’ll vote against the spending bill if it lifts the crude-oil export ban without providing a tax credit to refiners that would lose business.

“If you tell oil producers they can sell their product anywhere, it puts a number of refiners out of business," Carper said.

Republican Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota said providing a tax credit “would be very problematic” because it would cost $7 billion.

Syrian Refugees

Also at issue is whether the spending bill will include a Republican proposal, opposed by Democrats, to block Syrian refugee resettlement in the U.S., as well as a plan backed by both parties to tighten the visa waiver program, which eases travel to the U.S. for some 20 million people a year. Both issues became priorities following terrorist attacks that killed 130 people in Paris in November and 14 in San Bernardino, California, on Dec. 2.

A proposal backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, would end restrictions on how much political parties may spend on behalf of candidates.

Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who leads the conservative Freedom Caucus, questioned the wisdom of allowing McConnell’s provision on campaign spending if lawmakers drop the effort to limit Syrian refugee resettlement in the U.S. because of Democratic opposition.

"If you don’t put it in the bill but you do put in a campaign finance measure that helps the political parties? Are you kidding me?" Jordan said in an interview. He said he was unsure whether the campaign finance measure would be in the final version of the bill.

The stopgap spending bill is H.R. 2250.

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