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Congress Averts Government Shutdown–For Now

Congress took a big step toward avoiding a partial federal shutdown on Thursday when the Senate passed a bill to keep the government funded through Dec. 3. The House was expected to follow suit shortly. The Senate approved the short-term funding bill by a 65-35 vote.

The votes will help avert one crisis, but only delay another as the political parties dig in on a dispute over how to raise the government’s borrowing cap before the United States risks a potentially catastrophic default.

The work to keep the government open and running served as the backdrop during a chaotic day for Democrats as they struggled to get President Joe Biden’s top domestic priorities over the finish line, including a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill at risk of stalling in the House.

With their energy focused on President Biden’s agenda, Democrats backed down from a showdown over the debt limit in the government funding bill, deciding to uncouple the borrowing ceiling at the insistence of Republicans. If that cap is not raised by Oct. 18, the U.S. probably will face a financial crisis and economic recession, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said.

Republicans say Democrats have the votes to raise the debt limit on their own, and Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is insisting they do so. But the most immediate priority facing Congress was keeping the government running once the current budget year ends at midnight Thursday. The bill’s passage will buy lawmakers more time to craft the spending measures that will fund federal agencies and the programs they administer.

 

“This is a good outcome, one I’m happy we are getting done,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said. “With so many things to take care of in Washington, the last thing the American people need is for the government to grind to a halt.”

Once the government is funded, albeit temporarily, Democrats will turn their full attention to the need to raise the limit on federal borrowing, which now stands $28.4 trillion.

The short-term spending legislation will also provide about $28.6 billion in disaster relief for those recovering from Hurricane Ida and other natural disasters, and help support Afghanistan evacuees from the 20-year war between the U.S. and the Taliban. The U.S. has never defaulted on its debts in the modern era and historically, both parties have voted to raise the limit. Democrats joined the Republican Senate majority in doing so three times during Donald Trump’s presidency. This time Democrats wanted to take care of both priorities in one bill, but Senate Republicans blocked that effort Monday.



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