U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (C) walks...

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (C) walks towards the Senate chamber with aides, December 21, 2017. Credit: Getty Images / Alex Wong

WASHINGTON — Congress prevented a partial government shutdown Thursday after the House and Senate approved a short-term spending bill and set aside unfinished business so they could go home for the holidays.

House Republicans passed the stopgap measure to keep the government open through Jan. 19 in a party-line 231-188 vote, and not long afterward the Senate approved the measure in a bipartisan 66 to 32 vote, setting up a heavy schedule for the first month of 2018.

One of the issues that Congress will have to take up will be disaster aid. The Senate didn’t even vote on the bill that the House passed 251-169 to add $81 billion for several states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands damaged by hurricanes and wildfires.

Before agreeing to the short-term funding bill, the Senate brushed off an objection in a 91-8 vote to its waiver of what’s known as a “pay go” requirement to cut certain programs, including Medicare by $25 billion, to help pay for the tax bill.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who made the objection, said, “If you care about debt, vote for this point of order.” But Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said the sudden cut to Medicare that would happen would result in “fewer providers and reduced access to care.”

The Republican majority in the House and Senate took up the funding issue after pushing the deadline from Dec. 8 to Dec. 22 with a short-term measure so they could focus on and pass their sweeping $1.5 trillion tax cut legislation on Wednesday.

House Republicans made their short-term spending bill public Thursday morning as the House Rules Committee debated the rules for debate and voting, a rare session in which House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi appeared to weigh in on the measure.

Pelosi said Democrats would not support a measure that Republicans had written without them or that left out a key Democratic demand — to pass a measure to allow immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children to stay and earn citizenship.

Some 800,000 of these immigrants face deportation after President Donald Trump rescinded the Obama executive order — called the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, or DACA — that lets them stay and work and gave Congress until March to pass legislation.

“They embody the best in our nation: patriotism, hard work, perseverance,” she told the committee. “We should not leave them to celebrate the holidays in fear watching the DACA protection expire, fearing being deported from the only home they have ever known.”

But Republicans resist adding the immigration measure to another bill, insisting that it be passed as a stand-alone bill and include measures for border protection and building a wall on the border with Mexico.

Without Democratic help, House Republicans sought to mollify defense hawks demanding fuller funding of the military by adding $4.7 billion for missile defense to respond to North Korean threats and to repair two destroyers damaged in accidents this year in the Pacific.

The stripped-back bill includes $2.1 billion for veterans to choose private care, a temporary funding for states facing shortfalls from the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and a short-term extension of an expiring overseas wiretapping program to track terrorists.

The legislation also has a provision to turn off automatic cuts to many “mandatory” spending programs, including Medicare, that would otherwise be triggered by the tax cut bill. Democrats had sought to highlight the looming spending cuts in arguing against the tax measure.

But also left unfinished were bipartisan efforts to smash budget limits that are imposing a freeze on the Pentagon and domestic agencies, a long-term extension of the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program for 9 million low-income kids and Senate legislation aimed at stabilizing health insurance markets.

With Associated Press

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