Arizona lawmakers split on bill to continue funding federal government

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, explains his vote against the bipartisan budget deal to keep government open. Bipartisanship is good, he said, “but not when it’s bought and paid for with billions of taxpayer dollars.” (Photo courtesy Sen. Jeff Flake’s office)

WASHINGTON – Arizona lawmakers split early Friday on a budget bill that reopened government after a brief midnight shutdown, with opposition coming from an unusual coalition of budget hawks and immigration advocates upset by the measure.

The budget hawks were upset by what is in the bill – as much as $300 billion in additional spending for the next two years – while immigration advocates were upset by what was not included, protection for DACA recipients.

The House approved the bill on a 240-186 vote shortly after 5:30 a.m. That followed the Senate’s 71-28 vote to approve the budget shortly before 2 a.m. That vote was delayed until after the midnight expiration of the old budget – technically shutting down government – as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, spoke for hours about the costs of the bill and the growing deficit.

It was the sixth time this fiscal year that Congress, unable to pass the full budget for the year, had had to pass a “continuing resolution,” a short-term measure to fund government operations at previous levels to keep the lights on.

The latest version would keep most government agencies funded for the next six weeks, while providing a more stable military budget for the next two years.

The 652-page bill in part would raise the budget caps on military spending by $300 billion, provides almost $90 billion for disaster relief as well as reauthorizing $600 million in funding for community health care centers.

The bill touted as a bipartisan budget solution outraged Republican budget hawks with the massive budget increase it has scheduled for next year.

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“I love bipartisanship, but not when it’s bought and paid for with billions of taxpayer dollars,” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, said in a speech on the Senate floor Thursday.

Flake was one of 16 Senate Republicans to vote against the measure, joined by 11 Democrats and Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders.

In the House, 67 Republicans joined 119 Democrats to oppose the bill. Arizona’d delegation was similarly split. Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva of Tucson and Ruben Gallego of Phoenix voted against the measure along with Republican Reps. Paul Gosar of Prescott, Andy Biggs of Gilbert and David Schweikert of Fountain Hills.

Biggs said the bill “gives Democrats wins on many of their projects while achieving very few for Republicans.” But he was most upset by the spending, saying “our grandchildren will suffer” from the debt we leave them.

“I am disgusted by our unconditional surrender on the budget caps deal,” said Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, in a written statement before the vote. “If this budget caps deal is approved by Congress we will raise our federal spending by $300 billion across the next two years.”

But Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, said the defense funding in the bill outweighed concerns about the spending, saying it’s time to stop playing politics with the military. She joined Arizona Democratic Reps. Kyrsten Sinema of Phoenix and Tom O’Halleran of Sedona to vote for the budget bill.

“There’s a lot of things we also need to work on and there’s a lot of issues related to our fiscal responsibility…. We’ve got to work together to get to those and get our spending under control,” said McSally, an Air Force veteran. “But we’ve got to make sure that, right now, we give the troops what they need to keep them save, to keep them alive.”

Sinema said in a statement after the vote that it’s Congress’ job to pass a budget by Oct. 1 every year and this short-term measure will at least allow services to continue. She said it is “shameful it has taken this long” to pass a budget, and called the latest bill “a good deal, but much more work remains.”

“Now, Congress must act to secure our borders and provide an earned path to citizenship for Dreamers,” Sinema said in her statement, which called on House leaders to hold a vote on immigration reform immediately.

Grijalva said there were many good elements in the budget bill, and agreed with Sinema that it was important to pass a budget to fund the government. But he voted no because of the lack of action on DACA and what he sees as a too-big increase in the military budget.

“While I applaud the provisions of the bill that fund important health programs, disaster relief, and veterans infrastructure; I voted ‘no’ because it failed to protect Dreamers and provide true parity between domestic and defense spending,” Grijalva said in a written statement.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tried to reassure Democrats in his chamber Thursday that a vote for this funding bill would let the Senate move on to debate next week on immigration reform legislation.

“Based on my continued conversations with the Republican leader, once we pass this budget agreement, we are ready to proceed to a neutral bill – shell bill – on immigration next week,” the New York Democrat said in a floor speech Thursday.

And in one of the final acts before adjourning early Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved to begin debate on the immigration issue on Monday.

But Schumer’s counterpart on the other side of the Capitol, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said during a record-breaking eight-hour speech Wednesday that she would not vote for the budget deal until the GOP leadership in the House promised to bring immigration reform up for a vote.

House Speaker Paul Ryan echoed Schumer, saying at a news conference Thursday that the budget has to be approved before discussion can begin on immigration – a problem he said members on both sides of the aisle want to solve.

“We will bring a (DACA) solution to the floor, one that the president will sign,” Ryan said. “We must pass this budget agreement first though, so that we can get on to that.”

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