United Kingdom

Senate passes temporary plan to avoid brutal government shutdown before Thanksgiving

WASHINGTON — The Senate approved a plan Wednesday to extend government funding through early next year, narrowly averting a government shutdown for the second time in recent months.

The upper chamber fast-tracked the plan and approved it 87-11, less than a full day after it passed in the House. The deadline for lawmakers to keep the government’s doors open is the end of the day Friday, and officials in both chambers were eager to avoid a debacle and head home early for the Thanksgiving holiday.

But the move is only temporary, setting up another showdown early next year: The bill funds part of the government through Jan. 19 and another through Feb. 2, with just five working weeks until the first deadline and six until the second. Congress has been extraordinarily divided, and there is not yet agreement between the two chambers on what the final funding levels will be.

It’s unclear whether the new House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., will adhere to a deal struck between his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and President Joe Biden to limit spending to 1% growth in 2025, or attempt to cut it further. House appropriators are writing the bills at lower levels after McCarthy instructed them to do so, while their Senate counterparts are writing their bills at the maximum agreed-upon level.

“Keeping the government open is a good outcome. But we have a lot more to do after Thanksgiving,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. said on the Senate floor Wednesday night. He cited the many hurdles ahead: Aid for Israel and Ukraine, the National Defense Authorization Act, and 12 appropriations bills passed in concert with the House.

The White House has said the president will sign the temporary funding extension because it maintains funding levels and does not include additional conservative policies. Democrats in both chambers have made the same argument for why they feel they can support the two-tiered extension.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to reporters following a closed-door lunch meeting with Senate Democrats at the U.S. Capitol. House lawmakers hold a vote to elect a new speaker in Washington on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023. House Republicans nominated the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, to the speakership last week. Jordan's chances of earning 217 votes, the number needed to become speaker, are unclear.

Senate leaders from both parties signaled Tuesday that the measure would be greeted warmly in the upper chamber, but it wasn’t a given they could pass it in time. All 100 senators must agree to bypass the rules and consider it before the funding deadline.

GOP Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul introduced an amendment that would cut overall spending by 15% – except for the Department of Defense, military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs – and claw back $30 billion from the Internal Revenue Service. It was defeated 65-32 ahead of the vote.

“To continue spending money at the current rate will inevitably lead to the bankruptcy of our great nation,” Paul said introducing his amendment Wednesday night.

The vote was initially expected to happen Wednesday afternoon, but it was delayed due to a last-minute holdout from Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who wanted assurances from Schumer that the Senate would work on a formal conference with the House on the NDAA, one of the big-ticket items members are hoping to complete before the end of the year. A conference is a temporary committee that works out differences in legislation between the two chambers, rather than sending a bill between the two for consideration.

While members were eager to get out of Washington, many seemed frustrated by the need for an extension and already had their eyes locked on the budget fight ahead.

“It’s not like we’ve accomplished anything. We kept the government open,” said Sen. John Neely Kennedy, R-La. “The bar is pretty much on the ground. I don’t think you can get any lower unless you start digging.”

What happens next?

The House has already left town for Thanksgiving, and the Senate is likely not far behind. When they return the following week, work begins in earnest to square their visions for a budget that was first due at the end of September.

Funding for federal transportation programs, housing programs, agriculture and food programs and military and veterans programs will expire on Jan. 19. The deadline for the departments of Health and Human Services, Commerce, Labor, State and Defense come just two weeks later on Feb. 2.

The path to make both those deadlines is rocky.

Johnson, who passed the funding extension in the House with more Democratic votes than Republican ones, faces continued infighting in his caucus. Ultraconservative members defected en masse from his first major move as speaker, and the House has already failed to pass three appropriations bills — two were defeated on the House floor, and two others were pulled when it was clear they would be rejected.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., talks with reporters ahead of the debate and vote on supplemental aid to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., talks with reporters ahead of the debate and vote on supplemental aid to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023.

McCarthy was booted from the speakership for doing the same thing Johnson did, passing a so-called “clean” funding extension without policy add-ons. Members of the conservative Freedom Caucus have said they don’t plan to challenge Johnson’s hold on power but made it clear that they are willing to go against him.

The Senate has passed only three funding bills (compared to the House’s seven), and leaders are debating whether to pass the other nine as one big bill that would put pressure on the House to agree to their funding levels.

Adding to the mess, members on both sides of the aisle would like to send additional aid to Ukraine and Israel. Biden has requested a single budget bill that would send money to both, but House Republicans have attached Israel aid to an IRS budget cut, and Senate Republicans are demanding changes to border policy in exchange for Ukraine funding.

“The consequences are dire” if Congress can’t send Ukraine aid until January or February, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. said. “Russia is plussing its defense industry by orders of magnitude. It is turning its economy into a wartime footing and Ukraine needs this support desperately.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Government shutdown: Senate passes temporary plan before Thanksgiving