Congress passes stopgap budget with a day to spare; Arizona vote split

Congressional lawmakers avoided a government shutdown by extending the budget through Dec. 11 when, as one said, they will have to endure the “infuriating exercise” of budgeting all over again. (Photo courtesy Architect of the Capitol)

WASHINGTON – It took until the last minute to do it, but Congress on Wednesday passed a short-term budget that avoided a shutdown and will keep the government operating through mid-December.

The “continuing resolution” came just hours before the Oct. 1 start of fiscal 2016, for which Congress has yet to pass a single spending bill. The emergency measure will extend funding for government agencies at last year’s levels until Dec. 11, giving lawmakers time to work out a fiscal 2016 budget.

The Senate passed the short-term measure easily Wednesday morning, but the House split largely along party lines in an afternoon vote that saw 151 Republicans and no Democrats voting against it.

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, said the vote lets the government avoid “a catastrophic shutdown,” but that this is “no time for Congress to pat itself on the back.”

“The fact is, Congress bickered and delayed until the final day of the fiscal year and then voted to keep the government open – but only for a couple of months,” Kirkpatrick said in a written statement after the vote. “In December, we will go through this infuriating exercise once again.”

The final House vote was 277-151, with 91 Republicans joining 186 Democrats to pass the measure. Four of Arizona’s five Republican House members opposed the resolution, with only Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, joining Democrats in support.

In the Senate, Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake both voted for the measure, which passed on a 78-20 vote.

The vote came with added drama in the House, where lawmakers again tried to cut funding for Planned Parenthood on a 241-185 vote. The Planned Parenthood measure will not derail the continuing resolution, but will head to the Senate, where Democrats are expected to block it.

Pro-life lawmakers had threatened to delay a budget vote – and force a government shutdown – over abortion funding language. But leaders in both the Republican-controlled House and Senate had vowed that they would not let that happen, after a 2013 shutdown that was widely believed to cost Republicans.

That position angered pro-life lawmakers and led to the surprise announcement last week by House Speaker John Boehner that he would retire at the end of October.

Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Mesa, said in a written statement that he hopes that when the budget comes up for debate again, “the House’s new leadership will pay more attention to the will of the American people than their own desire to capitulate.”

“The House today surrendered to the demands of Planned Parenthood’s management,” Salmon said.

But Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said he is more concerned about the rest of the budget.

“Republicans just bought themselves 10 weeks to get their house in order,” Grijalva said in a joint statement with Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, his co-chair in the Progressive Caucus.

“When that clock runs out, Congress must create a budget for the rest of the fiscal year that invests in America,” their statement said. “Anything short of that is a failure for the American people.”