Congress Votes to Reopen Government, Passes Budget Deal

WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump on Friday signed a $400 billion budget deal that sharply boosts spending and swells the federal deficit, just hours after last-minute opposition by congressional Democrats and teat party conservatives threatened to scuttle the deal.

Going into Thursday, congressional leaders appeared confident that the agreement to lift spending caps and fund the government through March 23 would help them avoid a second shutdown in less than a month, but Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., delayed the effort past a midnight deadline in the Senate by repeatedly objecting to requests to schedule a vote on the sweeping budget deal.

Paul, a Kentucky Republican who famously spent nearly 13 hours filibustering the nomination of former CIA Director John Brennan in 2013, first objected to a request from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to hold the vote at 6 pm. Paul instead embarked on an hour-long speech condemning Congress for not taking on government spending.

Paul was particularly critical of military and foreign spending during his speech, but also called on Congress to in general rein in what he called government excess.

“I ran for office because I was very critical of President Obama’s trillion dollar deficits,” Paul said after objecting to McConnell’s request. “Now we have Republicans hand-in-hand with Democrats, offering us trillion dollar deficits. I can’t in all good honesty, in all good faith, just look the other way because my party is now complicit in the deficits.”

The deal McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced on Wednesday would lift budget caps put in place as part of a 2011 agreement to raise the debt ceiling, as well as add equal amounts to the defense and nondefense budgets. The new bill raises the caps by $143 billion for fiscal year 2018 and by $153 billion in 2019, while also providing $6 billion to combat the opioid epidemic and fund mental health programs, $4 billion for veterans’ health care initiatives and $20 billion for infrastructure projects.

The budget agreement is attached to a short-term funding deal that will keep the government open until March 23.

“What makes Democrats proudest of this bill is that after a decade of cuts to programs that help the middle class, we have a dramatic reversal,” Schumer said in a statement after the bill passed the Senate. “Funding for education, infrastructure, fighting drug abuse, and medical research will all, for the first time in years, get very significant increases, and we have placed Washington on a path to deliver more help to the middle class in the future.”

McConnell gave Paul the opportunity to hold a procedural vote to find the deal in violation of Senate budgetary rules, but the libertarian Republican declined the offer.

Paul’s delay tactics ended around 1 am on Friday and the Senate overwhelmingly voted to end debate on the budget agreement and government funding package. The Senate then passed the bill around 2 am Friday with a 71-28 vote.

The House likewise approved the bill just after 5:30 am on Friday with a 240-186 vote.

“Ultimately, neither side got everything it wanted in this agreement, but we reached a bipartisan compromise that puts the safety and well-being of the American people first,” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Ky., said in a statement after the vote. “Once the president signs this bill into law, we will have a clear path to pursue our ambitious agenda for 2018. I am excited and eager to get back to work doing big things for this country.”

While Republicans cast most of the votes against the bill in the Senate, Democrats mounted the strongest opposition in the House.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., came out against the deal on Wednesday because Ryan would not promise to hold a vote on immigration after it passed. President Donald Trump’s decision to end the program known as DACA that gave protection from deportation to people living in the country illegally who came to the United States as children takes effect on March 5, giving Congress a short window to pass an immigration bill.

McConnell promised to hold immigration votes in the Senate next week, and on Friday morning brought up a placeholder piece of legislation that will be allow lawmakers to offer competing immigration bills on the Senate floor when lawmakers return to Washington after the weekend. Ryan has given no such assurances, leading 119 House Democrats to vote against the funding bill.

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