Congress decided to postpone its budget and debt ceiling deadline yesterday, as Republican leaders opted not to risk a government shutdown during the winter holidays. But in doing so, Congress also delayed (again) decisions on key legislative priorities, such as reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and passing the DREAM Act to protect DACA recipients. Though the Nevada delegation split along party lines, there was enough bipartisan support in both chambers to send another continuing resolution to the President’s desk.

Why are these short-term spending bills necessary?

As Republican leaders rushed to pass the Trump-GOP Tax Plan, they kept the budget on the backburner. That nearly backfired on them earlier this month, as Congress had to pass a continuing resolution (or short-term spending bill) on December 8 to avert an impending government shutdown. But since that prior continuing resolution was only for two weeks, Congress had to revisit it this week in order to prevent a government shutdown and avert automatic budget cuts that would otherwise be triggered by the tax plan.
Yet as the December 22 deadline quickly approached, Republican leaders were once again in a major bind. Even though Republicans have the majority in both houses, they often need Democratic votes to offset defections from the far-right House Freedom Caucus. That dynamic proved true again on the budget this month, as most Republicans didn’t want the severe budget cuts advocated by many in the Freedom Caucus.

Why were Democrats in such a bind?

Republicans weren’t the only party feeling heartburn over the federal budget. In recent weeks, Democratic leaders have been pressured by some of their members and many progressive activists not to agree to a continuing resolution deal that did not include votes on the DREAM Act and CHIP reauthorization. If CHIP is not reauthorized soon, at least 27,000 Nevada children and about nine million children across the nation will begin to lose their health care coverage. The program has typically enjoyed broad bipartisan support, but Republican leaders have continued to delay votes on full reauthorization.
And then, there’s the DREAM Act. In September, President Donald Trump ended the DACA program that shielded some 13,000 Nevada immigrants and 800,000 immigrants across the nation from deportation. Since then Republican leaders have promised an eventual vote on some sort of legislative fix, but they’ve yet to deliver. In turn, most Democrats and a few Republicans have rallied around the DREAM Act to guarantee a path to citizenship for DREAMers.

Nevada Democrats voted no, but the ayes still had it.

Against the backdrop of bitter party-line votes to pass the GOP Tax Plan, Republican leaders proceeded with another continuing resolution to keep funding at 2017 levels through January 18. While Republican leaders left out the spending cuts and additional legislative priorities sought by conservative hard-liners, they also left out the DREAM Act and only included $2.8 billion in CHIP funding (which will likely last just three months at most).
The House voted 231-188 to approve the continuing resolution. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Carson City) voted for, while Reps. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas), Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson), and Ruben Kihuen (D-Las Vegas) voted against. Shortly thereafter, the Senate approved it on a wider 66-32 vote. Senator Dean Heller (R) voted for, while Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D) voted against.

New year, new budget battle

In a statement released after voting against the continuing resolution, Cortez Masto said, “DACA has been rescinded, and soon enough, 800,000 young men and women will watch their lives fall apart. […] We need to work together to find a permanent, long-term solution for Dreamers before it’s too late.” While progressive activists were pleased with Cortez Masto’s vote, they demanded that Democratic leaders fight harder to end further delay of the DREAM Act and CHIP.
Earlier today, Trump signed the continuing resolution and the GOP Tax Plan into law before leaving for his Mar-a-lago Florida retreat. However, this is not the end of Congress’ budget war. DREAMer advocates and health care activists have vowed to press on, as the next budget deadline hits January 18. The DREAM (Act) may have been deferred again this week, but it won’t be long before Congress again has to decide whether to let it be denied.
Cover photo by Nate Lee, made available by Wikimedia, and licensed under Creative Commons.