Shutdown in Sight as Senate Rejects Stopgap Spending Measure

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had warned Democrats that Republicans would block the House-passed measure to keep the government funded and suspend the federak debt limit.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had warned Democrats that Republicans would block the House-passed measure to keep the government funded and suspend the federak debt limit. J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Republicans block short-term funding bill that would have also paused the debt ceiling.

The Senate on Monday failed to advance a short-term funding bill that would have funded agencies through early December, leaving Congress just three days to come up with an alternate plan to avoid a government shutdown on Friday morning. 

The continuing resolution had already passed the House, but Republicans rejected the measure because it also suspended the nation’s borrowing limit until December 2022. Democrats, they have insisted, should use a special procedure called reconciliation to raise the debt ceiling on their own. Senate Republicans have put forward their own bill that would fund agencies at their current levels for nine weeks, but would not address the debt ceiling. Absent congressional action, the government would shut down on Oct. 1 and likely default on its debts two to three weeks later. 

Democratic congressional leadership has not yet indicated what its next steps will be, though it appears a bill that funds government through Dec. 3 and does not address the debt limit would have the votes to reach Dec. 3. Lawmakers could also opt to pass a shorter CR that aligns a shutdown deadline with the default deadline. All parties have expressed their desire to avoid a shutdown. 

“Government shutdowns also are hugely costly, they would include the cutting of staff at a range of agencies,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday. “That’s not a positive thing obviously.”

Still, the White House last week began making contingency plans in case funding does expire Thursday night. As is routine in every administration, the Office of Management and Budget had conversations with agency leaders last week instructing them to begin preparing for a possible shutdown. Biden on Monday stressed to reporters that avoiding a shutdown and default were his key immediate priorities, in addition to passing infrastructure and social safety net bills. 

“We've got three things to do,” Biden said. “The debt ceiling, continuing resolution, and the two pieces of legislation. If we do that, the country is going to be in great shape."

The House-backed bill was set to also provide $28.6 billion for disaster relief and $6.3 billion for Afghan resettlement, issues for which Senate Republicans have also voiced support. Republicans attempted on Monday to pass a CR with that funding attached through unanimous consent, but Democrats blocked the effort. 

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor Republicans were taking an “unhinged position” and sending the government toward its first-ever default. 

“After today there will be no doubt about which party is working to solve the problems that face our country and which party is accelerating us toward unnecessarily, avoidable disaster," Schumer said. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., countered that Democrats were selectively choosing when to ask Republicans for their support, noting the multi-trillion dollar bill they are seeking to soon pass to enact Biden’s legislative agenda. 

“Bipartisanship is not a light switch that Democrats get to switch on when they want to borrow money and switch off when they want to spend money,” McConnell said. 

Lawmakers have expressed optimism that they would be able to reach a compromise setting line-by-line appropriations for the rest of fiscal 2022 by Dec. 3 once they agree to a stopgap bill. The House has approved many of the requisite spending bills for fiscal 2022, which included large spending increases for nearly all federal agencies and did not gain Republican support. The Senate, which will have to win bipartisan backing to advance its appropriations measures, has not yet voted on any of its bills.

After the vote failed, Schumer said preventing a shutdown and default was "vital to our country’s future" and promised the Senate would be "taking further action" this week. 

The American Federation of Government Employees called it "unacceptable" to shut down the government for the fourth time since 2018. 

"A shutdown will force critical government programs to grind to a halt, while others would continue with skeleton crews who would go unpaid for as long as the shutdown lasts," said AFGE President Everett Kelley, "causing pain for government workers and the American people alike."

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