Congress gave final approval to a sweeping spending bill Thursday evening that sidesteps a government shutdown less than 36 hours before the year-end deadline.
The stopgap extends funding through Jan. 19, punting debate on immigration and health care while leaving tax reform as the only major legislative achievement in 2017. The measure advanced in the House 231-188 and in the Senate 66-32.
Just one member of Utah’s six-person, all-Republican federal delegation voted against the legislation: far-right conservative Sen. Mike Lee.
During negotiations earlier this week, Lee had threatened to cast a “nay” if the package included a longterm extension for a surveillance program he fears incidentally spies on American citizens. The spending fix did not do that. And Lee still rejected it.
The resolution approves just a three-week continuation for the controversial Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), set to expire on Dec. 31, with promises for debate on reform when Congress comes back into session next month.
Regardless, Conn Carroll, the senator’s spokesman, said Lee “does not believe” the federal government should be funded through continuing resolutions and has never supported one during his seven years in office.
He voted against a similar spending bill in October 2013 — masterminding an effort he hoped would end funding for Obamacare, which didn’t work but led to a partial government shutdown for 16 days.
Lee was one of just two Republicans to spurn this year’s measure. He was joined by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who had concerns about debt and budget rules.
Though he still voted in favor of it, the measure also fell short for Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.
The senior senator had pushed for a five-year extension for a lapsed federal and state insurance program for children in low- to middle-income families. The bill includes just a temporary patch with $2.85 billion to run through March.
That’s “far from ideal,” Hatch said Thursday from the Senate floor. “As the leading advocate for this program, I have no desire to see it become subject to repeated short-term fixes and constantly looming deadlines.”
Federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program — the 1997 brainchild of Hatch and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy — expired Sept. 30, leaving it in limbo despite bipartisan support.
CHIP helps subsidize wellness exams, immunizations, doctor visits, prescriptions and other forms of health care for nearly 20,000 children in Utah and 9 million nationwide. They typically come from families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.
The kids who depend on it “won’t be left behind,” Hatch told The Salt Lake Tribune. “We’ll get it done.”
The Utah Department of Health had anticipated sending letters to CHIP families to warn them coverage may soon be upended; while Thursday’s extension eased some of the more immediate concerns, spokesman Tom Hudachko urges Congress to “remove this uncertainty” altogether and pass a five-year plan.
Without the necessary federal dollars, the state had just enough money to get through the end of January. It would have needed to rely on subsidies through the federal health insurance exchange had the funding not come through.
“It’s still a little bit up in the air for exactly what it would mean for us,” Hudachko said.
Come next year, Hatch intends to continue garnering support for his fully-fleshed out CHIP bill, the Keeping Kids’ Insurance Dependable and Secure Act. He believes, “it will pass overwhelmingly.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, who spoke before Hatch on the Senate floor Thursday, criticized the GOP for spending time this month to pass tax reform. In doing so, she said, Republicans “shortchanged” CHIP.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, too, said the party’s priorities “squandered this week.”
“The [funding bill] should have been an opportunity for Republicans to join with Democrats to solve the problems that face our country,” she said in a prepared statement.
Hatch rebutted the sentiments, saying “it gets a little old sometimes when stupid politics are being played by the other side.”
“There have been a number of claims from our friends on the other side and some of their allies in the media that Republicans have ignored the CHIP program or that we don’t intend to reauthorize it or that we supposedly placed a higher priority on tax cuts for the rich than on providing health insurance for needy children,” he said. “Those claims are absolutely ridiculous, and they know it.”
In avoiding a shutdown now with its last vote of the year — and President Donald Trump expected to sign off — Congress has pushed a trove of hot-button issues into January. Members will return from holiday break with another shutdown looming over discussion of protecting young immigrants from deportation, stabilizing health care, spending and more.