U.S. Senate Approves Bill to Avert Government Shutdown, Sends it to Biden

Reuters file photo
A man uses his mobile phone near the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 10.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-majority U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a bill to avert a partial government shutdown, after the Republican-controlled House of Representatives backed it with less than 36 hours before funding would have begun to run out.

The bill, which passed the Senate in a bipartisan 77-13 vote, will next go to President Joe Biden’s desk for signing into law. It will set deadlines to fund one part of the government by March 8 and the other portion by March 22.

I am happy to inform the American people that there will be no government shutdown on Friday. When we pass this bill, we will have, thank God, avoided a shutdown with all its harmful effects on the American people, said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer on the Senate floor.

Earlier on Thursday, in the House, 207 Democrats joined 113 Republicans in a 320-99 vote to approve the short-term stopgap measure, which buys Congress more time to agree on funding for the full fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

About two months have passed since Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson and Schumer agreed on a $1.59 trillion discretionary spending level for the fiscal year.

Johnson, who has wielded the speaker’s gavel only since late October, once again relied on a procedural move that required Democrats to provide most of the support to pass the stopgap spending bill, a tactic that could anger hardline conservatives.

That and 97 “no” votes from his 219-member Republican conference could spell trouble for the speaker as he takes up six full-year appropriations bills next week and moves on to the thorny issue of Ukraine aid.

Three House Republicans, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, predicted Johnson would take up aid to Ukraine, Israel and U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific after completing another six spending bills by March 22. The Senate earlier this month passed the$95 billion national security bill.

I’m the eternal optimist. I think we’re going to get it done, said McCaul, who said the legislation could include a loan program instead of direct assistance and provide the means to seize and liquidate Russian sovereign assets as an offset.

Republican Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick and Don Bacon have also proposed aid legislation for U.S. allies that would revive the return-to-Mexico border policy and strip out humanitarian assistance.

Even with passage of Thursday’s temporary funding bill, Congress still faces potential battles during the next few weeks over funding levels for many programs that conservatives want to pare back.

Johnson had been pressured by hardline Republicans to use a shutdown as a bargaining chip to force Democrats to accept conservative policy measures, including partisan provisions to restrict the flow of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Representative Chip Roy told reporters that this faction of Republicans now hopes to persuade Johnson to put a new spending bill on the floor that would fund the government through Sept. 30 but cut non-defense spending while preserving levels for defense and veterans benefits.

We believe that we could do that. We believe that actually presents a good alternative, Roy told reporters.

Republican Representative Patrick McHenry predicted that Johnson would face no threat as a result of votes on spending legislation, unlike his predecessor Kevin McCarthy, who a small group of hardliners voted out of leadership for passing a bipartisan bill to avert a shutdown in September.

This is the House Republicans coming to terms with reality, said McHenry. “It’s been clear for months that this is the outcome. To get on with it is the best thing.”

Major ratings agencies say the repeated brinkmanship is taking a toll on the creditworthiness of a nation whose debt has surpassed $34 trillion.