Senate Passes Bill To Avert Another Government Shutdown

The Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would fund the government for the entire fiscal year while not providing any money for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

The legislation was the product of a bipartisan agreement on border security that lawmakers reached earlier this week after several weeks of bicameral negotiations. The measure would prevent a second partial government shutdown following last month’s costly funding lapse that forced 800,000 federal workers off the job and cost the economy $11 billion.

The Senate passed the 1,100-page bill in a bipartisan vote of 83-16. The House is also expected to approve the measure and send it to the president’s desk later tonight, ahead of Friday’s deadline.

Moments before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that Trump intends to sign the bill into law but that he also plans to declare a national emergency to obtain the necessary funds to build the wall ― a move opposed by many Republicans and one that is almost certain to face legal challenges.

The funding bill provides just $1.375 billion for 55 miles of “pedestrian fencing” along the U.S.-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley ― a fraction of the president’s $5.7 billion demand for more than 200 miles of concrete barriers. Moreover, the amount for new fencing in the bill is less than the $1.6 billion Senate appropriators offered in a bipartisan proposal last year.

Both parties made concessions on funding for detention beds at Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities. Last year, Congress authorized funding for 40,520 beds, though ICE greatly exceeded that number. As of Feb. 10, nearly 49,000 people were in ICE detention.

As part of the spending deal, the Trump administration wanted to increase the number of detention beds funded to 52,000, while Democrats sought to reduce that number to 35,400. Instead, lawmakers agreed to gradually reduce detention beds to 40,520 — the same level authorized last year ― by Sept. 30. 

Democrats failed to limit the number of migrants ICE can detain within the U.S. to a daily average of 16,500, however. They backed away from that request Monday night after pushback from Republicans, meaning that the deal reached this week places no hard cap on ICE’s ability to detain people.

Although Trump seemed to indicate in December that he could agree to a government spending bill without funding for his promised border wall as long as discussion resumed in the new year, he changed course at the final hour. The resulting shutdown lasted a record 35 days, sparking turmoil at the nation’s airports and economic strife for many of the government employees and contract workers forced to skip paychecks.

During the shutdown, Trump repeatedly said any deal without $5.7 billion for a wall “doesn’t work.” He was willing to wait “as long as it takes” to get his wall money, he said, even if the shutdown lasted months or years. Trump went so far as to threaten to circumvent Congress by declaring a national emergency along the southern U.S. border, theoretically freeing up Defense Department funding to pay for the project. 

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rejected any spending deal that included a wall, offering instead billions in technological and staffing improvements along the border.

Meetings between both sides produced dramatic headlines, but no real results.

By late January, the White House appeared to be feeling the heat as its representatives began making tone-deaf comments about the shutdown’s human impact. Trump caved to the Democrats, agreeing to a three-week continuing resolution to fund the government through Feb. 15 while both parties in Congress hammered out a deal.

At the time, Trump said he was prepared for a second shutdown ― or to issue a national emergency declaration ― if a deal were not reached by the resolution’s expiration date. McConnell said on Thursday that he supports an emergency declaration over the wall after previously cautioning the president against it.

Trump is also reportedly considering a plan to obtain more funding for his wall via an executive order by shifting unspent federal dollars from areas like disaster-relief projects and military housing.

“I would assume they would take the money in the deal. It won’t be enough. It’ll be well short of [$5.7 billion], and [they’ll] do what we talked about to make up the difference between the appropriated amount and the 5.7,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a top Trump ally, told Fox News this week.

Federal workers, however, are still feeling the impact of the earlier lapse in government funding. While lawmakers approved back pay for the 800,000 federal employees who missed wages during the shutdown that ended last month, it did not do so for unpaid workers employed by federal contractors.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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