Senate clears stopgap government spending, averting shutdown

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- California) speaks at her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)
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Erik Wasson and Laura Litvan Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday night averted a U.S. government shutdown and passed a stopgap spending measure, sending it to President Joe Biden for his signature.

The 69-28 vote followed a day of negotiations between Senate leaders and a group of conservative Republicans who demanded a vote on an amendment blocking Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates in exchange for speeding past procedural hurdles that threatened a governmentwide closure early Saturday.

“I’m happy to let the American people know the government remains open,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said after the vote.

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Prior to the vote, Democrats agreed to demands by a cluster of Republicans led by Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall to vote on an amendment to block the Biden administration’s COVID-19 testing and vaccination mandate for large employers. That amendment failed, 48-50, on the Senate floor.

The stopgap bill funds the government until Feb. 18, a move Democrats hope will give them time to pass Biden’s roughly $2 trillion economic agenda this month while also lifting the debt ceiling.

Appropriators have said they hope the new deadline will give them time to negotiate the 12 full-year government spending bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

The funding extension puts agencies on autopilot, freezing in place program funding levels and forbidding new contracts, with few exceptions, one of which being $7 billion in funding to aid Afghan evacuees.

Republicans and Democrats showed no signs of being able to resolve the larger impasse blocking full-year appropriations bills.

Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, stressed before the vote that lawmakers still have work to do on the spending bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

“Further refusal to meet at the negotiating table will only undermine national security, our ability to invest in American families, and our capability to respond to the coronavirus and its emerging variants,” Leahy said.

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro urged Republicans to make a full-year funding counteroffer soon to finish work on appropriations bills.

“Let me be clear: Working families, small businesses, veterans and our military need the certainty that comes with passing omnibus funding legislation instead of short-term funding patches,” DeLauro said on the House floor.

Top Senate Republican appropriator Richard Shelby said Democrats need to drop policy proposals such as allowing government funding for abortions before Republicans talk about funding levels.

“If that doesn’t happen, we’ll be having this same conversation in February,” Shelby said.

The stopgap does not address automatic cuts to Medicare and other programs slated for January under the so-called Paygo law, despite Democratic efforts to include the provision.

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