Democratic-Controlled Congress Poised to Approve Stopgap Funding to Keep US Government Open

The Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress appeared set Wednesday to approve a stopgap funding measure to avert a partial national government shutdown at midnight Thursday. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the legislation would maintain current funding levels across government agencies through December 3. It would also include $6.3 billion to help relocate Afghan refugees moving to the U.S. after Washington ended its two-decade war in Afghanistan last month, and $28.6 billion to help eastern and southern states recover from devastating hurricanes and western states from raging wildfires. 

“We can approve this measure quickly and send it to the House so it can reach the president’s desk before funding expires midnight tomorrow,” Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor. “With so many critical issues to address, the last thing the American people need right now is a government shutdown. This proposal will prevent one from happening.” 

Senate Republicans earlier this week blocked passage of another measure to avert the shutdown because it also included a provision to suspend the country’s long-term debt limit, which they are trying to force Democrats to adopt on their own without Republican support. 

But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans would support a “clean” funding package to keep the government open into the new fiscal year starting October 1, such as the legislation proposed by Schumer. 

If passed by the Senate, the stopgap funding bill would head to the House of Representatives, where House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters Tuesday that the chamber could also vote on it later Wednesday. 

Previous shutdowns

There have been 21 partial U.S. government shutdowns, all since 1976, and include three during former President Donald Trump’s one-term administration. The second shutdown during Trump’s term on February 9, 2018, was only a few hours and involved a filibuster by Republican Senator Rand Paul. 

By law, U.S. government agencies must have congressionally authorized funding in order to operate. Shutdowns have usually occurred when Congress and the White House cannot agree on funding levels for specific operations or whether the programs in question deserve to be funded at all. 

Without funding during the shutdowns, many government operations have been halted, such as pension payments to older Americans, the processing of income tax refunds and accessibility to national parks. But national security operations have been deemed essential and workers have stayed on the job, even as their paychecks might be delayed. 

Debt limit

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democratic colleagues the chamber would vote soon on suspending the national government’s debt limit. 

But even if the House passes the legislation, its fate in the politically divided Senate, with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, is uncertain. 

Senate Republicans already twice this week have rejected efforts to suspend the debt limit, saying it is an effort by opposition Democrats to clear the path for a massive new spending plan to expand social safety net programs the most since the 1960s. 

Republicans uniformly oppose the Democratic proposals championed by President Joe Biden. 

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told congressional leaders on Tuesday that the government is likely to run out of money to pay its bills by October 18 if Congress does not suspend the debt limit or raise it substantially beyond its current $28.4 trillion total.