- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2017

Brushing aside demands of illegal immigrant Dreamers, Congress on Thursday approved a short-term spending bill to carry the government into the new year, narrowly avoiding a shutdown showdown.

The bill, which cleared the House on a 231-188 vote and the Senate on a 66-32 vote, extends funding through Jan. 19, keeps a critical foreign surveillance program operating, adds money to a popular veterans health care fund and ensures states won’t run out of money under the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

But it does not include any further legal status for Dreamers, disappointing them and their backers, who at one point vowed to force a shutdown showdown unless they were granted a path to citizenship.

Republican leaders promised to return to the Dreamers early next year, saying they have until March 5 — the end of the phaseout period President Trump set in canceling the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals amnesty that is protecting nearly 700,000 Dreamers from deportation.

“We will address the issue. We do care very much about this issue,” Rep. Pete Sessions, Texas Republican and chairman of the Rules Committee, told Democrats who were begging to tackle a “DACA fix” as part of year-end negotiations this week.

In the end, Democrats weren’t willing to risk a shutdown for the Dreamers, and enough of them joined Republicans in the Senate to overcome the filibuster threshold, ensuring the bill would pass.

The bill goes to President Trump, who must sign it before the end of Friday to avoid a partial shutdown.

The government has been operating since Oct. 1, the beginning of fiscal year 2018, on stopgap spending. Congress has now passed three “continuing resolutions” to keep the government open at 2017 levels.

The latest bill takes the government through Jan. 19. All sides say they want to approve full-year funding by then, but they will have to confront a number of sticking points.

Republicans want a massive boost for defense, but Democrats say any Pentagon money must be matched by more domestic spending. A more permanent solution to the Children’s Health Insurance Program is expected, as well.

Members of Congress punted on those disputes this week and said they will still be waiting when lawmakers return in the new year.

The bill also includes a waiver of spending rules, heading off a massive cut to Medicare and other programs that would have kicked in next year to make up for the deficits spawned by the Republican tax cut legislation.

A group of hard-core conservatives tried to enforce the spending limits but were crushed in a 91-8 vote.

In the end, Thursday’s action was anticlimactic, with the only question being how many Democrats would vote to keep the government open.

Just 14 Democrats in the House voted for the bill, as did 16 members of the Democratic caucus in the Senate. The party’s leaders all voted against the deal, calling it an “epic failure of governing.”

“The Republican majority has made a complete mess of the very basics of governing,” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

In previous funding showdowns, it was conservative pressure groups that were cheerleading for a shutdown. But this time it was liberal activists calling for a shutdown showdown, with the fate of the Dreamers serving as the fulcrum.

Immigrant rights activists had set an artificial end-of-year deadline for approving the Dream Act, which would grant full protection to more than 2 million illegal immigrants and a pathway to citizenship to 1.7 million, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Republicans, including Mr. Trump, said any legalization needed to include stiffer security measures to prevent another wave of illegal immigration. They were hoping to head off a repeat of 1986, when Congress enacted an amnesty and it spurred the biggest surge of illegal immigration in history.

Democrats balked at many of the items on the Republicans’ wish list, however, and a deal couldn’t be reached in time.

“There is no consolation for the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers who are losing their work permits and protection from deportation, and now have to spend the holidays in fear that the next knock on the door will be the Trump deportation force,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who voted against the bill.

Immigration rights activists blasted both parties for failing and took particular aim at Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who they said should have done more to champion the Dreamers’ cause.

Mr. Schumer voted against the spending bill but didn’t demand party unity. If he had, then Democrats could have mounted a filibuster and defeated the bill.

“Sen. Schumer failed in his leadership to hold the line by not pushing for the Dream Act in the final budget,” said Cesar Vargas, co-director of the Dream Action Coalition. “Democrats and Republicans will be held accountable as we enter 2018.”

Hours before Thursday’s vote, Hispanic Democrats in the House went to Mr. Schumer and asked him to flex his legislative heft to insist on the Dream Act’s inclusion.

Emerging from the meeting, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois said House Democrats had done all they could.

“I did my job. I walked in there, and I was clear,” he said.

He also said Dreamers have every reason to be wary of promises of action next year.

“I’ve seen this movie before, and the ending isn’t good when it comes to immigrants,” he said.

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