Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Congress passes bill to prevent government shutdown, send out $28.6B in disaster aid

WASHINGTON — Congress made a last-minute dash to avert a government shutdown on Thursday, with the U.S. Senate and House approving a short-term spending bill just hours ahead of a midnight deadline.

Every Democratic and independent senator and 15 Republicans supported the bill in the 65-35 vote. The GOP senators in the “aye” tally included Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy of Louisiana; Susan Collins of Maine; Roy Blunt of Missouri; and Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

The House later passed the federal spending bill — which will keep government agencies funded at current levels through Dec. 3, and provide $28.6 billion in aid for regions struck by extreme weather — on a vote of 254-175. 

Every House Democrat and 34 House Republicans voted to send the measure to President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign it.

“This vote says we are keeping the government open,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-N.Y.), said Thursday, calling it a “glimmer of hope” as Congress faces a slew of other legislative challenges. 

Chief among those is increasing the federal borrowing limit, which must be done to prevent a default on the nation’s debt obligations. That default could occur as soon as mid-October, according to Treasury officials.

Democrats, who barely control the split 50-50 Senate, initially sought to advance legislation that would have increased the national debt limit, in addition to the provisions to avert a government shutdown and to approve disaster aid.

But GOP senators opposed raising the debt limit at a time when Democrats also are seeking to push through a massive social spending plan with no Republican support. They blocked an attempt Monday to begin debate on that broader bill.

Democrats expressed frustration that Republicans would risk a default. But ultimately they were forced to push off the extension of the debt limit, which will need to be done with only Democratic votes to avoid economic chaos.

The spending bill also includes $22 million to pay for the National Institute of Standards and Technology to investigate the Surfside building collapse in Florida, a provision praised by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat whose district includes the site of that building site.

“We have years in front of us to determine just exactly how this building collapse occurred, and to adopt policies to make sure that it never happens anywhere in the country again,” she said.

Several GOP-drafted amendments to the spending bill failed during Thursday’s Senate floor votes, including one from Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas. 

Marshall’s amendment sought to prohibit the use of federal funds in enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandates. He argued that receiving a vaccine should be a “personal choice” and not one that is mandated by the federal government.

The amendment failed on a 50-50 vote. Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.), argued against Marshall’s amendment, saying it would “weaken one of our strongest tools to get people through this crisis.”

Meanwhile, other major pieces of the Democratic agenda remain stalled in Congress. 

It remains unclear if Democratic leaders in the House will bring up President Joe Biden’s infrastructure legislation on Thursday. 

Key surface transportation programs are set to expire after Thursday, but progressives have opposed voting for the road-and-bridge funding while the fate of a separate but linked proposal to expand a raft of social safety-net programs remains in flux. 

Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia have opposed the $3.5 trillion price tag of the proposal drafted based on Biden’s “Build Back Better” policy plan. Democratic leaders have sought to pass that measure through the reconciliation process, which would allow it to be approved with 50 votes and without any support from Republicans.

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