Congress approved a last-minute spending bill Thursday, avoiding a government shutdown over the holiday season but punting big policy and budget decisions to January, when the House and Senate will once again have to find a deal to avoid shuttering the government.
The legislation, called a continuing resolution, keeps the government funded until Jan. 19, 2018. It passed the Senate Thursday night 66 to 32, soon after it passed the House by a vote of 231–188. President Trump signed the bill Friday morning, well before the midnight deadline for a shutdown.
“I think everybody’s relieved,” Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told reporters after the House vote. “And so you know, in the lines of one of my favorite movies, It’s a Wonderful Life, ‘Merry Christmas, everybody, God bless you.’”
"It's a relief to be going home, period," Sen. Bob Corker said after the Senate vote. "It's been a turbulent quarter."
Republicans — who control both chambers of Congress as well as the White House — will now be able to return home with one major legislative achievement under their belts this year: the tax overhaul bill they passed earlier this week.
But they’ve rolled several high-profile issues into 2018, including a legislative solution to Trump’s decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program that protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that he would allow a vote on a deal to protect the nearly 800,000 DREAMers, should members strike a bipartisan deal at the end of January.
"I think that everybody understands that we've got to take care of these kids, and I certainly felt very strongly that we needed to do it before the end of the year," Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat, said after the Senate voted.
The continuing resolution passed Thursday also includes a funding extension for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides health coverage for children in low-income families that don’t qualify for Medicaid. CHIP ran out of funding at the end of September, but the funding deal adds nearly $2.9 billion to run the program through March 31, 2018, setting up Congress to address the program again early next year.
The legislation also included a short-term extension of section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, kicking a discussion over whether to reform or expand the government's foreign spying powers to January.
Just after the CR vote, the House did pass a separate disaster supplemental bill addressing hurricane and wildfire relief.
"Well, I guess we better recharge our batteries," Sen. John Cornyn said after the Senate vote when asked how he felt going into 2018. "It seems like Groundhog Day. We get up and do the same thing over, and over, and over again. It just — it's maddening and frustrating, but unfortunately that's the way the Senate and Congress operates."
He added that he "can't imagine a world" where CHIP funding lapses next year.
New York Republican Rep. Chris Collins said earlier Thursday that the time to deal with these issues, as well as some longer-term defense and national security measures, is in the new year. “After the first of the year, these are all legitimate discussions. Let’s just, I think we all agree, let’s not shut down over Christmas.”
Historically, major legislative initiatives are unlikely to occur in an election year, when controversial votes can be costly to parties. Republicans will be fighting to hang onto their majorities, and they’ll face another hurdle in the Senate: a slimmed-down majority come January after Alabama elected a Democrat earlier this month.
“There’ll still be a lot done, there just won’t be any big front-page issue like a major tax bill or major health care,” Texas Rep. Joe Barton told BuzzFeed News Thursday. “And everything that didn’t get done this year that’s in the pipeline we’ll try to do next year.”
Even so, some Republican members hope they can ride into 2018 on the momentum created by passing their tax bill.
“We’re demonstrating that we’re able to get a lot of things done that have not been able to get done in decades. I’m hoping that that momentum carries us into January, but as you well know, that’s not always the case,” Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart told reporters before Thursday’s vote, ceding, “yeah, January’s going to be a bear.”
Additional reporting contributed by Emma Loop.
The funding deal adds nearly $2.9 billion CHIP through March 31, 2018. A previous version of this post said it was $2.9 million.