US House passes bill to avert government shutdown, with Senate vote to follow

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The U.S. Senate is poised to vote on Thursday night to fund the government through mid-February, removing the risk of a partial shutdown, Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters.

That vote would come hours after the House of Representatives voted 221-212 to approve the stopgap funding bill, which runs through Feb. 18. Only one Republican supported the measure.

“It is looking good that we are going to pass the CR tonight and make sure the government stays open,” Schumer said on Thursday.

He did not mention a proposal by a small group of hardline Republican senators to defund President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for workers. It was not clear those Republicans had the votes to pass their proposal in the narrowly Democratic-controlled chamber.

Republican Senators Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and Roger Marshall had earlier raised the possibility that the government could partially shut down over the weekend while the Senate moves slowly toward eventual passage.

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Democrats hold 50 seats in the 100-seat Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to vote as a tiebreaker.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who must quell the rebellion within his caucus to keep the government operating, reiterated earlier on Thursday that there would be no shutdown.

But he did not respond when asked whether Republicans would agree to move quickly by consenting to circumvent the Senate’s cumbersome legislative rules.

“We need to pass it and that’s what we’ll be working toward doing,” the top Senate Republican told reporters.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, blasted the Republican move, saying it demonstrated “irresponsibility” that Congress would reject.

The temporary spending bill would maintain funding of federal government operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, amid concerns about a new rise in cases and the arrival of the Omicron variant in the United States.

The emergency legislation is needed because Congress has not yet passed the 12 annual appropriations bills funding government activities for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1.

A partial government shutdown would create a political embarrassment for both parties, but especially for Biden’s Democrats, who narrowly control both chambers of Congress.

Up next: debt ceiling

Congress faces another urgent deadline right on the heels of this one. The federal government is approaching its $28.9 trillion borrowing limit, which the Treasury Department has estimated it could reach by Dec. 15. Failure to extend or lift the limit in time could trigger an economically catastrophic default.

The fact the temporary spending bill extends funding into February suggested a victory for Republicans in closed-door negotiations. Democrats had pushed for a measure that would run into late January, while Republicans demanded a longer timeline leaving spending at levels agreed to when Republican Donald Trump was president.

“While I wish it were earlier, this agreement allows the appropriations process to move forward toward a final funding agreement which addresses the needs of the American people,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro said in a statement announcing the agreement.

But she said Democrats prevailed in including a $7 billion provision for Afghanistan evacuees.

Once enacted, the stopgap funding measure would give Democrats and Republicans nearly 12 weeks to resolve their differences over the annual appropriations bills totaling around $1.5 trillion that fund “discretionary” federal programs for this fiscal year. Those bills do not include mandatory funding for programs such as the Social Security retirement plan that are renewed automatically.


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