Congress moves to avert partial government shutdown

Congress moves to avert partial government shutdown

The House is expected to approve the measure following the Senate vote Thursday

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Credit: AFP File Photo

Congress is moving to avert one crisis while putting off another with the Senate poised to approve legislation that would fund the federal government into early December.

The House is expected to approve the measure following the Senate vote Thursday, preventing a partial government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins Friday.

Democrats were forced to remove a suspension of the federal government's borrowing limit from the bill at the insistence of Republicans. If the debt limit isn't raised by October 18, the country would likely face a financial crisis and economic recession, says Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

Read | US Senate to vote Thursday in bid to avert government shutdown

Republicans say Democrats have the votes to raise the debt ceiling on their own, and Republican leader Mitch McConnell is insisting that they do so.

But the most immediate priority facing Congress is to keep the government running once the current fiscal year ends at midnight Thursday. The bill's expected approval will buy lawmakers more time to craft the spending bills that will fund federal agencies and the programs they administer.

Meanwhile, Democrats are struggling over how to get President Joe Biden's top domestic priorities over the finish line. Those include a bipartisan infrastructure bill that contains $550 billion in new spending for roads, bridges, broadband and other priorities, as well as a $3.5 trillion slate of social, health and environmental programmes.

“With so many critical issues to address, the last thing the American people need right now is a government shutdown," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY.

Schumer said the stopgap spending legislation will also provide aid for those reeling from Hurricane Ida and other natural disasters as well as funding to support Afghanistan evacuees from the 20-year war between the US and the Taliban.

Action in the final hours to avoid a partial government shutdown has become almost routine, with lawmakers usually able to fashion a compromise. The funding bill was slowed this time by disagreement over allowing the government to take on more debt so that it could continue to meet its financial obligations. Currently the borrowing cap is set at $28.4 trillion.

The US 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.

Raising or suspending the debt limit allows the federal government to pay obligations already incurred. It does not authorise new spending. McConnell has argued that Democrats should pass a debt limit extension with the same budgetary tools they are using to try to pass a $3.5 trillion effort to expand social safety net programs and tackle climate change.

“There is no tradition of doing this on a bipartisan basis. Sometimes we have and sometimes we haven't,” McConnell told reporters about past debt ceiling increases.

House Democrats complained about the steps they were being forced to take as they approved a standalone bill late Wednesday that would suspend the debt ceiling until December 2022.

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