POLITICS
09/30/2015 10:34 am ET Updated Sep 30, 2015

Congress Votes To Keep Government Open, For Now

But get set for the debt limit and other big showdowns before December.

WASHINGTON -- Congress waited until the very last day, but finally voted Wednesday to fund the government for a short time, setting up a similar but more consequential showdown in December.

With less than seven hours left before government funding expired, the House passed a stopgap measure not long after the Senate took the same step earlier in the day, extending funding through Dec. 11.

Every Democrat present voted in favor of the government funding bill, joined by 91 Republicans. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is likely to become the next house speaker, voted yes, despite the fact that the bill would not defund Planned Parenthood. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who is running to replace McCarthy, also voted yes, while Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who is running against Scalise, voted against the bill.

A majority of the Republican conference, 151, voted against the bill, further signaling the party's disapproval of outgoing House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)'s move to avoid a shutdown rather than force a fight and presidential veto over Planned Parenthood.

Several Republicans called the passage a step forward, but Democrats criticized the stopgap as embarrassing, and predicted it would only stall the bigger fight until December.

“The prospects for forging a reasonable, responsible solution by December are not good,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

By December, lawmakers will not only have to figure out how to fund federal operations for the rest of the year, but will also need to raise the nation's debt limit -- a step that many tea party-linked Republicans adamantly oppose. 

The Treasury Department has said that the country has already hit the $18.1 trillion limit, and it will only be able to continue using "extraordinary measures" to keep paying bills until sometime in November.

"If you think shutting the government down is bad -- which I do -- that pales in comparison to the government of the United States defaulting all our debts," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said as his chamber passed the funding measure earlier on Wednesday. "The consequences would be dire and the fallout would be felt around the world."

House Republicans were only able to keep many of their members on board by offering them a symbolic vote to defund Planned Parenthood. They used a procedural tactic known as an enrollment correction, which allowed them to vote again on a bill defunding Planned Parenthood and attach it, in theory, to the spending bill. But in reality, it effectively makes the defunding a sidebar measure that will be sent to the Senate while the government funding bill is sent to the White House for the president's signature.

Rep. Tom Massie (R-Ky.), a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, called the vote “hocus pocus.”

“If you’re paying attention to the rule, you can see it’s not a real vote,” Massie told reporters. “This is one of those pretend votes ... Some people define success differently, and some people define success as getting a vote on the floor even though it’s not going anywhere.”       

Ironically, other Republicans pointed out that even if the defunding measure were attached, it would make no difference to Planned Parenthood, which gets its federal dollars from grants that have already been made and Medicaid health care reimbursements, which will not be affected.

"I want to assure my colleagues that no additional funds are provided for this organization in this bill," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) after explaining how Planned Parenthood is funded.

President Barack Obama was expected to quickly sign the bill. Leaders have vowed to begin negotiations on more permanent funding and the debt soon, after failing to do so all year.

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