WASHINGTON (AP) – Congress is working to avoid one crisis while postponing another, with the Senate set to approve legislation that would fund the federal government until early December.
The House is expected to approve the measure after the Senate vote on Thursday, preventing a partial government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins on Friday.
Democrats were forced to remove the suspension of the federal government borrowing limit from the bill at the insistence of Republicans. If the debt limit is not raised by October 18, the country would likely face a financial crisis and an economic recessionsays Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Republicans say Democrats have the votes to raise the debt ceiling themselves, and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell insists they do so.
But the most immediate priority against Congress is to keep the government in office after the current fiscal year ends at midnight on Thursday. The pending approval of the bill will give lawmakers more time to develop spending bills that will fund federal agencies and the programs they administer.
Meanwhile, Democrats are wondering how to get President Joe Biden’s top national priorities to the finish line. These include a bipartisan infrastructure bill that contains $ 550 billion in new spending on roads, bridges, broadband and other priorities, as well as a list of $ 3.5 trillion in social, health and environmental programs.
“With so many critical issues to resolve, the last thing the American people need right now is a government shutdown,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y.
Schumer said the interim spending legislation will also provide assistance to those suffering from Hurricane Ida and other natural disasters, as well as funding to support Afghan evacuees from the 20 year war between the United States and the Taliban.
Action in the final hours to avoid a partial government shutdown has become almost routine, with lawmakers generally able to find a compromise. The finance bill was slowed this time by a disagreement over allowing the government to take on more debt so that it could continue to meet its financial obligations. Currently, the borrowing limit is set at $ 28.4 trillion.
The United States has never defaulted on its debts in the modern age, and historically both sides have voted to increase the limit. Democrats have joined the Republican majority in the Senate three times under President Donald Trump. This time, Democrats wanted to address both priorities in one bill, but Senate Republicans blocked that effort on Monday.
Increasing or suspending the debt limit allows the federal government to pay off obligations already incurred. It does not authorize new spending. McConnell argued that Democrats should adopt a debt limit extension with the same budget tools they use to try to push through a $ 3.5 trillion effort to expand social safety net programs and fight against climate change.
“There is no tradition of doing this on a bipartisan basis. Sometimes we have and sometimes we haven’t, ”McConnell told reporters of past debt ceiling increases.
House Democrats complained about the steps they were forced to take by approving a stand-alone bill Wednesday night that would suspend the debt ceiling until December 2022. This bill is now heading to the Senate, where it is almost certain to be blocked by a republican filibuster.
“You’re more interested in punishing Democrats than preserving our credit and that’s something I really have a hard time understanding,” said House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass ., to Republicans. “The idea of not paying the bills just because we don’t like (Biden’s) policies is the wrong way to go.”
But Republicans weren’t intimidated. They argued that Democrats have chosen to advance their political priorities on their own and are therefore responsible for raising the debt limit.
“As long as the Democratic majority continues to insist on spending money hand in hand, Republicans will refuse to help them raise the debt ceiling,” said Representative Tom Cole, R-Okla.
McGovern said Republicans inflated debt under Trump and are now washing their hands of the consequences.
“Republicans have now rediscovered the debt issue,” McGovern said. “Where the hell have you been for the past four years?” “
The Treasury has taken steps to preserve liquidity, but once depleted, it will be forced to rely on incoming income to pay its obligations. This would likely mean delays in payments to Social Security recipients, veterans, and government officials, including military personnel. The Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank, predicts that the federal government would be unable to meet about 40% of the payments due in the weeks that follow.
Associated Press writer Brian Slodysko contributed to this report.