Senate approves stop-gap spending measure to avert shutdown
The Senate approved a one-week government funding bill by voice vote, averting a shutdown and giving congressional negotiators more time to haggle over pandemic relief and a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending package.
The last-minute agreement to pass the short-term funding fix came together rapidly following pushback from senators who delayed its passage over objections to annual defense legislation and amid a push for additional stimulus checks and anti-shutdown measures.
The chances of a government shutdown appeared to diminish Friday morning as several senators including Rand Paul said they would no longer hold up a one-week resolution to fund the government.
Although roadblocks remain, Paul (R-Ky.) signaled on Friday that he won’t block passage of a stopgap spending bill or annual defense policy legislation, diminishing the chances of a government shutdown at midnight. The Kentucky Republican on Thursday threatened to oppose passage of the defense bill over a provision that would hamstring President Donald Trump’s ability to reduce American troop levels in Afghanistan.
“I think it’s a pretty important principle to discuss,” Paul said of the defense policy package. “So we did hold things up for a day on that but we’re not going to on the [stopgap spending bill].”
Republican Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and James Lankford of Oklahoma, who were among a group of conservatives pushing for votes on anti-shutdown legislation, also signaled that they wouldn’t hold up the one-week continuing resolution over the issue.
“It doesn’t make sense to shut down the government” over legislation aimed at preventing government shutdowns, Johnson said Friday.
Lankford echoed the Wisconsin Republican, saying: “While I’m arguing against government shutdowns, my goal isn’t to cause one.”
Federal cash expires at midnight, but the Republican senators dropping their objections helps pave the way for the Senate to vote on a one-week stopgap spending bill later on Friday. Paul floated the possibility of an amendment vote on a provision that would trigger an automatic continuing resolution in case of a shutdown. Lankford also said such a vote is under discussion.
The one-week resolution, which the House passed on Wednesday, buys congressional negotiators more time to finish talks on a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending package and billions of dollars in pandemic assistance, which millions of Americans will lose over the holidays.
During his floor remarks Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged the Senate to pass the stopgap spending bill and advance the defense policy bill.
“We ought to pass a full-year funding measure and I hope our committees in the Senate and the House can complete their work and deliver legislation next week,” McConnell reiterated.
The unlikely pair of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) have also pushed for a vote on stimulus checks. When asked Friday whether he’s trying to attach stimulus checks to the continuing resolution, Sanders said, “We’re working on it.”
“All that I want to say right now is that the American people are hurting, tens of millions of people are living in desperation,” he said. “They need help. They need a $1200 check, $500 for their kids, and Congress cannot go home without providing that.”
“Neither side is blinking at the moment,” Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said of Sanders’ push on stimulus checks and an effort to vote on an automatic CR amendment. “There’s either going to be a bunch of stuff or nothing.”
A government shutdown would be a fitting end for the 116th Congress, which began in the middle of a historic shutdown over President Donald Trump’s demands for billions of dollars for a southern border wall.
Even a brief federal funding lapse in the middle of a worsening global health crisis would prove crushing — a stinging indictment of a Congress that has failed for months to deliver more coronavirus aid and routinely fails to fund the government on time.
The 2018 shutdown, which dragged on for weeks, hobbled federal agencies and caused hundreds of thousands of federal employees to miss paychecks, with thousands applying for unemployment benefits.
Even if the Senate approves the week-long stopgap — punting the government funding deadline to Dec. 18 — congressional negotiators realistically only have a few more days to finalize a massive government funding package and a coronavirus relief agreement that continues to elude Congress.
Familiar headaches like funding for the border wall and the Department of Homeland Security continue to trip up an agreement on a 12-bill omnibus spending package that would increase federal agency budgets through the rest of the fiscal year. Congressional leaders, meanwhile, are launching a last-ditch effort to secure billions of dollars in pandemic aid for millions of struggling Americans.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday suggested that Congress may need more time to clinch a compromise on both.
“If we need more time, then we take more time,” she said. “But we have to have a bill and we cannot go home without it,” she said of an omnibus and government funding. “We’ve been here after Christmas, as you know.”