Congress passes bipartisan last-minute deal to avoid government shutdown

Washington, Sep 30 (EFE).- The US Congress on Friday avoided a government shutdown just hours before the midnight expiration of its previously approved funding, thus allowing the government to temporarily pay its debts and keep operating.

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives finalized the short-term stopgap spending bill to continue financing government operations through Dec. 16 in a 230-201 vote, while the Senate, where progressives hold a tight 1-vote majority if Vice President Kamala Harris’s potential tiebreaking vote is needed, approved the measure in a much more robust 72-25 vote.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats were interested in seeing – or being blamed for – a government shutdown just a month before the Nov. 8 mid-term elections and their bipartisan agreement to pass the relevant legislation now only requires President Joe Biden’s signature to enter into force.

The current fiscal year ends on Sept. 30 and the new one, for which the funds are required, begins one day later, and thus approval of the short-term spending bill had to be secured before midnight on Friday.

The bill will provide funding to keep the government operating until mid-December, when another spending package will need to be approved if lawmakers want to avoid a government shutdown at that point.

Congress still has not promulgated any of the 12 annual bills authorizing different elements of the executive branch to use government funds, and the new period of financing gives lawmakers more time to complete that work.

“We think it is unacceptable to ever shut the government down,” said Democratic Congressmen Jim McGovern of Massachusetts in the House debate on Friday, adding that causing the government to shut down amid natural disasters such as Hurricane Ian will make things worse for everyone.

The legal maneuvering surrounding the passage of the bill was not exempt from criticism with, for instance, Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma saying that it was a shame to have waited until “the last minute” to get the spending bill passed.

The stopgap spending bill includes $12.3 billion in economic and security assistance to Ukraine designed to strengthen that country’s defense in both the short and long terms as it fights the ongoing Russian invasion.

It also includes $2 billion to help rebuild infrastructure, housing and to spur economic recovery in communities affected by natural disasters in 2021 and 2022.

Democrats initially had linked their approval of the bill to a proposal by Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia to facilitate environmental permits for certain energy projects, but opposition from Republicans and some Democratic progressive lawmakers threatened to derail the whole process and Manchin himself agreed to withdraw that language in the bill.

Due to the lack of agreement, the package ultimately did not include additional funds to fight against Covid and monkeypox. The US is the country that has been hardest hit by monkeypox, with some 25,600 of the world’s 68,000 registered cases to date.

Since 1976, when new budget laws were approved, the US administration has found itself without funding on 20 occasions, although in the majority of those cases it was for just one day as new stopgap funding legislation was finalized, voted upon and signed into law.

The longest government shutdown – lasting 35 days – occurred during Republican Donald Trump’s administration due to disagreement among lawmakers over funding for his highly-touted wall on the US-Mexico border.

When the government is left without funds, most federal agencies, museums and national parks close their doors, while hundreds of thousands of federal employees are temporarily out of work and receiving no paychecks.

After the votes on Thursday in the Senate and on Friday in the House, there are no new budget votes scheduled until after the mid-term elections. According to the FiveThirtyEight Web site, Democrats have a 68 percent chance of keeping control of the Senate in the upcoming balloting while Republicans have a 68 percent chance of gaining control of the House.

EFE mgr/jdg/eat/bp

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