WASHINGTON — An hour and a half into yet another government shutdown, the Senate approved a massive two-year budget agreement early Friday that would reopen the government for six weeks and pave the way for more than $400 billion in increased defense and domestic spending.
The 71-to-28 Senate vote, which took place just before 2 a.m., capped a topsy-turvy day that featured filibuster threats, fuming congressional leaders, and frenzied vote counting. The drama — and the shutdown — threatened to stretch into dawn as the budget bill moves to the House, where its fate remains in uncertain amid bitter divisions in both parties.
In the Senate, one Republican lawmaker — Rand Paul of Kentucky — delayed the final vote until after a midnight deadline when funding for the government ran out and a partial shutdown took effect. Like other conservatives, Paul said the budget agreement would pave the way for big spending and ballooning deficits, and he said he was willing to force a shutdown to draw attention to the problem.
The spending deal would eliminate strict budget caps — set in 2011 to reduce the federal deficit — and pave the way for Congress to increase defense spending by $165 billion and hike domestic spending by $131 billion over the next two years. The agreement, negotiated by congressional leaders and released late Wednesday night, also includes billions of dollars in “emergency” funding that doesn’t count against the spending caps.
“We have Republicans hand-in-hand with Democrats offering us trillion-dollar deficits,” Paul said on the Senate floor Thursday night. “I want people to feel uncomfortable" voting in favor of big deficits, he said.
Paul certainly caused discomfort. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky begged his home-state colleague to stop his dilatory tactics and offered to let him make his point with a procedural vote. "Funding for the government expires in just a few hours," McConnell warned just before 6 p.m., to no avail.
Under Senate rules, Paul had to relent at 1 a.m. Friday, when Senate leaders won a motion to take up the bill and then ushered it toward final passage. Fifteen other Republicans joined Paul in voting against the bill, with many expressing similar objections about the increased deficit spending.
Eleven Democrats and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont also voted no. Although it included new money for health care, education infrastructure, and other cherished Democratic priorities, several Democrats said they could not support a deal that did nothing to protect the DREAMers, the undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
“This bill does not address the great moral issue of our time – the fact that in three weeks 800,000 young Dreamers will lose their legal status and be subject to deportation,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
President Trump in September said he would end an Obama-era program that granted legal status and work permits to the DREAMers, who could be subject to deportation as early as March 5. Many Democrats see the spending bill as their only point of leverage to shield those immigrants.
In the House, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi is opposing the deal and pressuring House Speaker Paul Ryan, to promise an open debate on legislation to protect the DREAMers — something McConnell has promised Senate Democrats. She led Democrats in reiterating that demand in a letter to Ryan sent just after the shutdown began at midnight.
Ryan so far has resisted, saying he will only bring up a bill that Trump supports. But since many conservatives will oppose the budget deal, Ryan will need significant Democratic support to win passage in that chamber.
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said Thursday that Democrats may have enough leverage to force Ryan’s hand.
“He needs us,” she said. “Our sense is (GOP leaders) don’t have the votes.”
There’s no question that conservatives are in full revolt over the budget deal.
"It makes President Obama look like a master of financial restraint,” said Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus. He predicted Ryan would lose 60 to 70 Republican votes when the budget deal comes to the House floor.
If the bill fails, the government will remain closed.
Contributing: Nicole Guadiano and Eliza Collins