US Congress passes bill to avert partial government shutdown

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With only hours to spare, Congress passed legislation that would avoid a partial federal shutdown and keep the government funded through to early December, and sent the bill to President Joe Biden.

The back-to-back votes by the Senate and then the House will help avert one crisis, but just delay another as the political parties dig in on a dispute over how to raise the government’s borrowing cap before the United States risks a potentially catastrophic default.

The House approved the short-term funding measure by a 254-175 vote not long after Senate passage in a 65-35 vote.

Congress Government Funding
Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer (J Scott Applewhite/AP)

The legislation was needed to keep the government running once the current budget year ended at midnight on Thursday.

Passage will buy lawmakers more time to craft the spending measures that will fund federal agencies and the programs they administer.

The work to keep the government open and running served as the backdrop during a chaotic day for Democrats as they struggled to get Mr Biden’s top domestic priorities over the finish line, including a bipartisan one trillion dollars infrastructure bill at risk of stalling in the House.

With their energy focused on Mr Biden’s agenda, Democrats backed down from a showdown over the debt limit in the government funding bill, deciding to uncouple the borrowing ceiling at the insistence of Republicans.

If that cap is not raised by October 18, the US probably will face a financial crisis and economic recession, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said.

Republicans say Democrats have the votes to raise the debt limit on their own, and Republican leader Mitch McConnell is insisting they do so.

The short-term spending legislation will also provide about 28.6 billion dollars in disaster relief for those recovering from Hurricane Ida and other natural disasters, and help support Afghanistan evacuees from the 20-year war between the US and the Taliban.

Congress Budget
Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (Patrick Semansky/AP)

“With so many things to take care of in Washington, the last thing the American people need is for the government to grind to a halt.”

Once the government is funded, albeit temporarily, Democrats will turn their full attention to the need to raise the limit on federal borrowing, which now stands 28.4 trillion dollars.

The US has never defaulted on its debts in the modern era and historically, both parties have voted to raise the limit. Democrats joined the Republican Senate majority in doing so three times during Donald Trump’s presidency.

This time Democrats wanted to take care of both priorities in one bill, but Senate Republicans blocked that effort on Monday.

Raising or suspending the debt limit allows the federal government to pay obligations already incurred. It does not authorise new spending.

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