U.S. Politics

Congress set to avert US government shutdown before midnight deadline

(AFP)

US lawmakers were set to approve a stopgap funding bill Thursday to avert a crippling government shutdown as Democratic leaders struggle to get their members in line behind President Joe Biden’s agenda.

Chuck Schumer, the top Democratic senator, has teed up a morning vote to keep the lights on for another two months that is expected to pass comfortably before the House follows suit before the midnight deadline.

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“Today the Senate will pass a continuing resolution that will eliminate the possibility of a government shutdown tonight,” Schumer told senators.

“The CR we’re voting on will keep the government funded until December 3, provide funding to help process and resettle Afghan refugees and finally deliver on critical disaster aid for Americans battered by the storms and wildfires this summer.”

The rare example of cross-party cooperation comes with Democratic leaders trying to hammer out a deal over Biden’s faltering $3.5 trillion social spending package with no Republican support, and a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill.

Democratic progressives and moderates are deeply entrenched in a war of words over the programs, as Republicans enjoy the disarray from the sidelines with one eye on next year’s midterm elections.

The Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill is due for a crucial vote in the House Thursday that has almost no chance of passing, with the Democrats’ left wing in open revolt.

The progressives don’t trust that centrist senators, who object to the size and scope of the larger social spending package, will honor an agreement to pass the legislation once infrastructure is across the line.

West Virginia’s Senator Joe Manchin inflamed tensions Wednesday with a statement arguing that trillions of dollars in extra spending was “fiscal insanity,” solidifying opposition to the smaller infrastructure bill.

– ‘So far so good’ –

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who says she won’t put out a bill if she doesn’t have the votes — told reporters she planned to forge ahead.

“I plan on moving forward in a positive way… And so far so good,” she told reporters.

She said Democrats were “on a path to win” the infrastructure vote, adding: “I don’t want to even consider any options other than that.”

Despite her optimism, the necessary support remained unlikely to materialize early Thursday, leaving Pelosi the option of putting the infrastructure package on ice and returning to it when the plan for the larger package is more fully formed. 

This would not be a knockout blow to Biden’s agenda, although the delay — likely until later in the fall — would be a frustration to White House aides who risk losing momentum after spending the week marshalling lawmakers. 

A delay would also see the way clear for tempers to cool while Congress focuses on other enormous challenges, such as raising the debt limit.

The US is nerve-janglingly close to defaulting on its $28 trillion debt, with less than three weeks to go until the Treasury Department exhausts its ability to obtain new loans.

No one in the leadership of either party has spelled out a clear way to avert the crisis, which would tank the US economy and roil world markets.

Republicans are demanding that Democrats, who control Congress and the White House, go it alone, saying Democrats whom they regard as profligate over-spenders should carry the political burden of running up the debt.

The House passed a debt limit hike Wednesday on a party-line vote, but it will be dead on arrival in the Senate thanks to Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s opposition. 

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