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Government briefly shuts down, Harvey funding secured

The federal government shut down briefly Thursday night, over U.S. Sen. Rand Paul's procedural objections over increased spending.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul delivers the keynote speech at the Dallas GOP "Reagan Day" event on Friday, January 30, 2015.

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

The federal government shut down briefly Thursday night, over U.S. Sen. Rand Paul's procedural objections over increased spending.

The Kentucky Republican blocked a vote on the bill using Senate procedure as he advocated for spending caps and fought against raising the debt ceiling.

The government officially shut down at midnight Eastern (11 p.m. Central time), but the two chambers eventually passed a massive budget bill early Friday.

The stakes were high for Texas. A long sought-after $90 billion in federal aid for disaster relief that included money for Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey was part of the original agreement and passed within the package. The Senate eventually and overwhelmingly passed the bill just before 1 a.m. Central time, and the House easily voted for the legislation around 4:30 a.m. Central.  

Earlier, when the Senate convened after midnight, Paul was at the microphone, chiding Republicans and Democrats alike for a bipartisan agreement that increased the national debt by spending money on both parties' sacred cows.

The massive bill, which many members had predicted earlier Thursday would lay the groundwork to avert any more government shutdowns over the next two years, would increase the federal deficit. It contained negotiated provisions meant to appeal to members of both parties, including an increase in defense spending and an extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

But Democrats, including House Leader Nancy Pelosi, expressed ire that the funding bill did not include protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children. Many Republicans, like Paul, were angry over the increase in spending. 

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, in his capacity as Senate majority whip, was a key player in moving the Harvey aid into the broader negotiations. On Friday, he lifted his months-long hold on Russ Vought, Trump's nominee to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. The hold, which blocked Vought's nomination from getting the Senate confirmation it needed, was widely interpreted as a salvo at the White House and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney for not having strongly supported sufficient disaster relief funding for Texas last year following the storm.

Most Texans backed the bill because of the disaster relief measure. But a handful did not, including U.S. Reps. Joe Barton, an Ennis Republican; Joaquin Castro, a San Antonio Democrat; Lloyd Doggett, an Austin Democrat; Louie Gohmert, a Tyler Republican; Jeb Hensarling, a Dallas Republican; John Ratcliffe, a Heath Republican; and Marc Veasey, a Fort Worth Democrat.

More interestingly, the two likely contenders for this fall's U.S. Senate race also voted for the spending bill, which potentially ran counter to their instincts.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz voted against superstorm Sandy funding in 2012, citing complaints that it was tied to unrelated legislation.

U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, is the all-but-certain Democratic nominee and voted for the spending measure despite widespread party ire with the lack of protections for those Texans who are in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA,  program.

A similar dispute caused a government shutdown in January.

Before the evening drama, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, seemed confident that the upper chamber would make good on its promise to begin debating legislation that would protect the young undocumented immigrants, commonly referred to as Dreamers, as soon as next week. 

“[Senate Majority Leader] McConnell has said that everybody who’s got an idea [or] an amendment will get a fair chance to present that and [get] a vote on that,” he told reporters during a conference call Thursday afternoon. “These young people are going to get what they deserve and what we have promised, which is an opportunity to have the Senate vote on various proposals.

While the spending bill was being considered, Catalina Adorno was one of about two dozen immigrants or supporters who participated in a vigil just a few feet from the border fence in El Paso. Adorno, a DACA recipient who is originally from the Mexican state of Puebla, said she’s heard the promises before.

“They say wait next week or wait two weeks or a month from now. Obama promised immigration reform and we waited eight years and nothing,” Adorno said. “I think that for us, this is isn’t anything new.”

The DACA program was initially slated to end in March after President Trump announced in September that he was phasing it out. A federal district judge in California has placed that on temporary hold, ruling that the administration could not abruptly shut down the program and that DACA renewals could still be filed. The Trump administration has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.

If Congress can’t find a solution and the March deadline stands, more than 900 DACA recipients would lose their protection from deportation every day beginning that month, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based immigration think tank.


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