Democrats and Republicans scramble to avoid shutdown, amid glaring differences

Children's health insurance, undocumented immigrants, disaster relief -- the list goes on and on.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-MD, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, and Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., appear before the House Rules Committee to make an appeal to add protections to the government funding bill for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. (credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-MD, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, and Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., appear before the House Rules Committee to make an appeal to add protections to the government funding bill for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. (credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In a move that has lately become a Congressional norm, the House plans to vote on an interim spending bill Thursday, racing to beat a Friday midnight deadline to fund the government or face a shutdown.

With less than 48 hours to reach an agreement, Democrats and Republicans are split on funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and community health centers, disaster relief, defense spending, as well as a solution for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.

House Republicans released a short-term continuing resolution Thursday morning that would fund the government through Jan. 19. And according to Washington Post reporter Erica Werner, GOP leaders announced shortly afterwards that they have the votes for the continuing resolution, as well as a disaster aid package.

But Democrats are unsatisfied with the stopgap spending bill. The measure provides nearly $3 billion for CHIP, funding the program that serves nine million children only through March 2018, an extension that experts say is insufficient.

As Modern Healthcare reporter Susannah Luthi explains:

The CHIP stopgap measure, although adding some funding, allows the CMS to shift money from states that currently have a surplus of funding to programs that are running out of money. Congress approved a similar provision in its Dec. 8 continuing budget resolution. That patch, however, accelerated the rate at which the other states will run out of money for CHIP. Researchers at Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families found that 25 states will run out of money in January and a total of 31 states will run out sooner than anticipated. That rate will now pick up again.

The Dec. 8 patch was worse than useless and has already jeopardized coverage in the states that see their dollars taken, [Linda] Nablo, [chief deputy director of Virginia’s Department of Medical Assistance Services] said.

The spending bill also includes $550 million for community health centers, which serve approximately 26 million people throughout the country, many of whom live below the federal poverty line.

On Thursday, The Hill reported, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she was “disappointed” with the measure’s reshuffling of funds from the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund to offset the community health center funding extension.

Democrats spent the bulk of Thursday morning pushing for the DREAM Act — which would grant legal status to undocumented youth and create for them a pathway to permanent legal residency — to be included in the spending bill.

According to Roll Call, Pelosi urged her Democratic colleagues on Wednesday to vote against the resolution, insisting that a solution be included for the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.

Further complicating matters is an $81 billion disaster aid bill to fund reconstruction in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were all hit hard by hurricanes this year. The GOP wants to vote on the package as part of the continuing resolution, despite Democratic complaints that the bill doesn’t do enough for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told the Washington Post Monday that the supplemental bill is “a step in the right direction but not good enough.”

President Donald Trump took to Twitter Thursday, blaming Democrats for seeking a shutdown to “distract” the public from the deeply unpopular $1.5 trillion Republican tax bill that was passed on Wednesday.  

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) tweeted in response to the President, arguing that what Democrats seek are “overdue priorities … that should have been addressed but instead Republicans spent weeks on an unpopular tax bill to enrich the wealthiest & corporate America.”

Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) echoed these sentiments, criticizing Republicans for prioritizing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans over protecting undocumented youth and providing health insurance for millions of children.

Also on Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) announced on Twitter that she would not be voting for the continuing resolution, mentioning concerns about CHIP and the DREAM Act.

Meanwhile, it seems the GOP has yet to settle internal disagreements about defense spending levels, as well as infighting over the inclusion of a controversial short-term extension of the expiring domestic spying program.

As Congress inches closer and closer to the Saturday deadline, a government shutdown appears imminent. The last time the federal government shut down was in 2013, as Congress was mired in a partisan dispute over the Affordable Care Act. The shutdown lasted more than two weeks and, according to ABC News, it ended up costing the government $24 billion.

Since the 1970s, the government has shut down 18 times.


This piece has been updated to include Sen. Feinstein’s tweet that she will not support the continuing resolution.