“All we are is rationalizing inaction, kicking this can down the road,” bemoaned Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, a Democrat.
Congress even failed to approve an additional batch of disaster relief for the states and territories affected by the multitude of natural disasters in the last several months—the hurricanes that battered Florida and Puerto Rico, the floods that swamped Houston, and the wildfires still scorching California. Bowing to pressure from Republicans representatives of Texas and Florida, the House approved an $81 billion appropriations bill in the afternoon, but hours later, the Senate could not muster the votes to pass it and will instead consider the bill in January.
Expectations for a year-end flurry of legislative activity had been much higher. Leaders in both parties and the White House had hoped to strike a bipartisan budget deal that would set spending caps for the next two years. Senator Susan Collins of Maine had demanded passage of two health-care bills to shore up the Affordable Care Act’s insurance market in exchange for her vote to pass the Republican tax bill that did away with the law’s individual mandate. Democrats had promised the Dreamers that they’d use their limited leverage to insist on an extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that President Trump will end in March. Republicans wanted a full year of funding for the Defense Department to pass alongside a temporary extension for the rest of the government. And the Trump administration had pressed Congress for a long-term extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Those demands all fell away as the tax plan hurtled toward passage and the shutdown deadline drew near. Moments after final passage of the tax bill on Wednesday, Collins conceded that Congress would not adopt the proposals she had demanded to restore cost-sharing payments and a reinsurance program for insurers. She and Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said they hoped the bills would be taken up next month alongside a longer-term extension of funding for CHIP and community-health centers.
Senate Democrats capitulated, too. They had the votes to stop any bill that lacked protections for young immigrants, but despite Dreamer protests all week in their offices, they are unlikely to force a shutdown over the issue and will push the fight instead to January. In a bid to alleviate the anger among immigration activists, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona secured a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring a bipartisan bill to the floor next month once a deal is struck.
As part of the interim measure, Republicans also dared Democrats to vote against a provision waiving $25 billion in automatic cuts to Medicare triggered by the GOP tax bill. With the waiver approved, Trump likely will sign the tax overhaul in the coming days rather than wait for the calendar to turn to 2018 so the cuts don’t take effect right away.