WASHINGTON — The Republican-led Congress narrowly passed a temporary spending bill Thursday to avert a government shutdown, doing the bare minimum in a sprint toward the holidays and punting disputes on immigration, health care and the budget to next year.
The measure passed the House on a 231-188 vote over Democratic opposition and then cleared the Senate, 66-32, with Democrats from Republican-leaning states providing many of the key votes. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the measure.
The stopgap legislation would keep the government from closing down at midnight Friday. It has traversed a tortured path, encountering resistance from the GOP's most ardent allies of the military, as well as opposition from Democrats who demanded but were denied a vote on giving immigrants brought to the country as children and in the country illegally an opportunity to become citizens.
The wrap-up measure allows Republicans controlling Washington to savor their win on this week's $1.5 trillion tax package — even as they kick a full lineup of leftover work into the new year. Congress will return in January facing enormous challenges on immigration, the federal budget, health care and national security along with legislation to increase the government's authority to borrow money.
Each of those items is sure to test the unity that Republicans are enjoying now.
"Now it gets down to some very difficult decisions on how we move forward in the first and second quarter of next year," said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a leader of a powerful faction of hard-right Republicans. "There is a lot to do next month. I'm not worried today. I'll wait until January to be worried, OK?"
Democrats initially had pressed for adding their priorities to the measure, but once rebuffed on immigration they worked to keep the bill mostly free of add-ons, figuring that they'll hold greater leverage next month.
Among the items left behind was $81 billion worth of disaster aid, which passed the House on a bipartisan 251-169 tally but stalled in the Senate. The measure would have brought this year's tally for aid to hurricane victims in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean, as well as fire-ravaged California, to more than $130 billion. But both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate want changes, and it was among the items Democrats sought to hold onto for leverage next year.
"Democrats want to make sure that we have equal bargaining, and we're not going to allow things like disaster relief go forward without discussing some of the other issues we care about," said powerful Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Immigration is among the most difficult issues confronting lawmakers in January, thrust upon them in September after Trump rescinded a Barack Obama order giving Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients protection against deportation, although he gave Congress a March deadline to come up with a legislative solution.
"They embody the best in our nation: patriotism, hard work, perseverance," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California told the chamber's Rules Committee on Thursday. "We should not leave them to celebrate the holidays in fear."
Trump and Republicans are pushing for additional border security and other immigration steps in exchange.
"The vast majority of Republicans want to see a DACA solution. They just want to see a DACA solution that's balanced," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said.
Also left unfinished were bipartisan efforts to smash budget limits that are imposing a freeze on the Pentagon and domestic agencies, a long-term extension of the popular Children's Health Insurance Program for 9 million low-income kids and Senate legislation aimed at stabilizing health insurance markets.
"At some point we've got to make the hard decisions," said Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota.
Instead, lawmakers struggled to achieve the must-do: a $2.1 billion fix for an expiring program that pays for veterans to seek care outside the Department of Veterans Affairs system; a temporary fix to ensure states facing shortfalls from the Children's Health Insurance Program won't have to purge children from the program; and a short-term extension for an expiring overseas wiretapping program aimed at tracking terrorists.
Trump weighed in on Twitter on Thursday morning to offer a boost — and a slap at Democrats.
"House Democrats want a SHUTDOWN for the holidays in order to distract from the very popular, just passed, Tax Cuts. House Republicans, don't let this happen. Pass the C.R. TODAY and keep our Government OPEN!" Trump tweeted.
Among Republicans, opposition to the temporary measure came mostly from the party's defense hawks, who had hoped to enact record increases for the military this year and force the Senate to debate a full-year, $658 billion defense spending measure. But that idea was a nonstarter with Senate Democrats, who will only agree to Pentagon increases if domestic programs get a comparable hike.
The short-term spending bill does contain about $5 billion to upgrade missile defenses to respond to the threat from North Korea and to repair two destroyers damaged in accidents this year in the Pacific.
The legislation also has a provision to turn off automatic cuts to many "mandatory" spending programs, including Medicare, that would otherwise be triggered by the tax cut bill. Democrats had sought to highlight the looming spending cuts in arguing against the tax measure.
REMSEN, Iowa | Jadyn Steffen fell from her perch above her fellow cheerleaders and smacked the back of her head on the gym floor at MMCRU High School in Marcus, Iowa, on Monday night.
The gym immediately grew quiet following a "bang" you couldn't help but hear.
In seconds, Steffen was surrounded by two nurses, two EMTs, a pair of school administrators, and her mother.
"We can't say enough about the people who came to Jadyn's aid," her mother, Kristin Steffen, told me on Wednesday. "Without them, yikes!"
Yikes is right. At a time when Siouxland residents worry about gaps in rural paramedic care (see recap Friday of the Journal's No. 9 story in 2017), it's reassuring to know there are volunteers dotting the landscape, incredible givers who stand ready at a moment's notice.
Tom Leavitt, for example, visited with me briefly on Monday evening at the gym. The Marcus Lumber pro was at the game to watch a niece play. Little did he know he'd be pressed into service between the first and second quarters of the boys' basketball game, joined immediately by Matt Dreckman, another EMS volunteer who, like Leavitt, serves with the Marcus Volunteer Fire Department.
"We are pretty fortunate where we're at," Leavitt said. "We have 26 EMTs within the Marcus Fire Department & Ambulance Service."
We cannot do enough for these volunteers. Think of the providers like Leavitt and Dreckman in your community and count your blessings. Better yet, tell them, show them your gratitude.
Additionally, two nurses who happened to attend the game, Tracee Henke and Traci Miller, held Jadyn Steffen's head still and checked her pupils for dilation. They kept the MMCRU junior calm in that 7-minute stretch while waiting for the ambulance.
How traumatic it had to be for a cheerleader to have been knocked out, albeit briefly, on her home gym floor during a break in the game.
Jan Brandhorst, MMCRU superintendent, and Jason Toenges, high school principal, offered words of comfort to the cheerleader as Lonnie Boekhout, MMCRU athletic director, kept the doorway entrance clear for the ambulance crew.
"They all had a quick response," Kristin Steffen said.
"I was impressed with the ambulance crew," added Jadyn's father, Jared Steffen, who was summoned at their home in Remsen and arrived as the ambulance pulled up to the school.
Kristin Steffen joined her daughter in the ambulance as it made its way to the Orange City Area Health System. "Jadyn kept responding by saying she knew who she was and what had happened," her mother remembered. "She also complained of the pressure on her head."
Kristin Steffen tried to think good thoughts, but couldn't dispel the notion of a possible brain injury. "When Jadyn screamed about the pressure in her head, it did me in," Kristin said.
Doctors examined the patient in the emergency room in Orange City on Monday night and dismissed her between 11 p.m. and midnight. Jadyn Steffen slept much of the day on Tuesday, confining herself to the couch most of the time. She returned to school on Wednesday to take one exam, a semester final in Spanish.
Following another visit to the Orange City hospital on Thursday for an ultrasound and examination, Jadyn planned to study for six final exams that remained. She's hoping her light headaches subside, allowing her to gain medical clearance for participation with a cheerleading unit that will perform at the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida, on Jan. 1. Her mother is one of the chaperones traveling with a group that includes 10 MMCRU cheerleaders.
"I have a lot of reading to do before those six finals," said Jadyn, who has served as class president six straight years.
She's also got a few Christmas presents to buy to wrap up her holiday season, a holiday she'll enjoy with a little added appreciation this year.
Her parents, meantime, are looking at their community, and the people in it, with an amplified sense of thanksgiving this Christmas.
"We are very appreciative of what those responders do every day," Kristin Steffen said.
As she said before: "Without them, yikes!"
SIOUX CITY | Tod Deck was in the middle of trial, questioning a witness when his phone rang late Wednesday.
He had informed the judge he was expecting a call from the governor, and when his phone rang, he was granted a short recess to step out in the hall.
When Deck answered the phone, Gov. Kim Reynolds was on the other end, delivering good news: she'd chosen him to be a district court judge.
Deck had no time to celebrate.
"Two minutes later I was back in trial questioning the witness," Deck said Thursday morning.
The trial lasted for another hour, delaying the chance for Deck to appreciate the moment. His case was in Council Bluffs, so he had plenty of time to notify his wife, family and some friends before arriving home in Sioux City.
"I had the drive back by myself to let it sink in," he said.
It was likely the last trial Deck will try as an attorney. He'll be seated on the bench sometime next month, filling an opening created by the retirement of District Judge Edward Jacobson in October.
Deck and Sioux City lawyer Priscilla Forsyth had been nominated as the finalists. Deck said Forsyth is an excellent attorney, so he was "happy and surprised" to be chosen.
A Sioux City native, Deck is a partner in the Deck Law firm and is also a Woodbury County magistrate. He practices criminal defense law, divorce and family law, probate and other areas as well. He said he believed his experience in a number of areas of the law helped his candidacy.
Until he's sworn in, Deck will have 30 days to wrap up his practice, notifying clients that he'll no longer be representing them. He'll also wait to find out the verdict of his last trial, which was a bench trial that will be decided by the judge.
Deck will serve in Judicial District 3B, which includes Woodbury, Crawford, Ida, Monona, Plymouth and Sioux counties.