U.S. Senate moves on short-term spending bill in struggle to avoid shutdown days away

By: - September 26, 2023 8:42 pm

U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., center, speaks to reporters on Sept. 26, 2023, at the U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate is on track to clear a short-term government funding bill in the days ahead, but it wasn’t clear Tuesday if that would happen before the Saturday midnight deadline to avert a shutdown, or if House GOP leaders would put the bill up for a vote in that chamber.

U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy declined to comment on the bipartisan Senate spending bill during a press conference Tuesday evening, or say what he would do if the House cannot pass a short-term spending bill and the Senate can ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline.

“Ask me when they pass that,” McCarthy said.

Iowa Democrats warn of shutdown consequences 

Iowa Democrats warned Tuesday that a partial shutdown of the federal government would hurt Iowa farmers and affect public safety.

John Whitaker, former Iowa state executive director of U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency, said a federal government shutdown could impact farmers, as well as mean higher government costs in the long-run.

He was among speakers Tuesday at a news conference hosted by Iowa Democratic Party chair Rita Hart.

Payments through the USDA Conservation Reserve Program are due Oct. 1, Whitaker said. The provides funding and resources through the Natural Resources Conservation Services for construction on sustainable land practices.

“Farmers have a kind of a tight window of fall, between harvest and whenever the weather turns, when construction can be done,” he said. “If NRCS is not able to be out there and design and lay out that construction of that conservation practice, that will be delayed.”

Other federally funded programs, such as rural development projects to those funded through the farm bill would also see problems and delays with a government shutdown.

While the USDA would largely cease functions during a shutdown, many other federal employees would still be required to work without pay, Ruark Hotopp, national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said. In Iowa, a shutdown would affect federal employees from Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents at airports to employees in immigration services and federal prisons, he said.

While federal employees are not legally allowed to strike, a government shutdown could lead to some workers taking leave and also cause low morale, he said. Many of these workers are already operating in “high stress environments,” he said, and the shutdown could affect their ability to perform critical job functions.

“Immigration is a massive topic that we know is very hot button. Well, then you’ve got folks that aren’t getting compensated that are performing that work, who are supposed to be patrolling those fence lines,” Hotopp said. “You know, how much do they suddenly care about their job anymore if they’re not getting paid? So, I mean, these are scary thoughts that we should all be extremely concerned about.”’

By Robin Opsahl

That means there is no certain path ahead as the days until a shutdown dwindle.

Congress must approve and President Joe Biden must sign some sort of government spending measure before the start of the new fiscal year on Sunday, otherwise a partial government shutdown with wide-reaching impacts would begin.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday the stopgap spending bill from the Senate is “a good, sensible and bipartisan bill.”

November end date

The Senate’s continuing resolution would extend current government funding and policy through Friday, Nov. 17, just before both chambers are set to go on their week-long Thanksgiving break.

“Over the weekend, Senate Democrats and Republicans together worked in good faith to reach agreement on a continuing resolution that will keep the government open beyond Sept. 30,” Schumer said, referring to one name for a short-term funding bill.

“This bipartisan CR is a temporary solution — a bridge towards cooperation and away from extremism,” Schumer said. “And it will allow us to keep working to fully fund the federal government and spare American families the pain of a government shutdown.”

Schumer urged lawmakers to approve the stopgap spending bill later this week, saying the continuing resolution “is a bridge, not a final destination.”

The CR, Schumer said, is intended to give the House and Senate more time to reconcile the differences between the 12 annual, full-year government funding bills.

The stopgap bill also includes funding security and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and money for natural disaster recovery, Schumer said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urged his fellow Republicans to support the short-term funding bill and not press for a partial government shutdown.

“In order for work on appropriations to continue uninterrupted, Congress needs to extend government funding by the end of this week,” the Kentucky Republican said. “The sooner Congress keeps the lights on, the sooner these important conversations can resume.”

“The clearest path forward is a standard short term continuing resolution,” McConnell said.

Kentucky’s other senator, Rand Paul, has said more than once that he will not give the consent needed for the Senate to quickly pass the short-term spending bill. Paul is opposed to additional aid to Ukraine.

DOD, Ukraine

The Senate legislation would provide $4.5 billion for the U.S. Defense Department as well as $1.65 billion for the U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development to send assistance to Ukraine.

Ongoing disaster recovery would be bolstered with $6 billion in additional spending for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund.

The funding is significantly less than the $24 billion for Ukraine and $12 billion for FEMA the Biden administration asked Congress to provide in a supplemental spending request it released in August.

The short-term spending bill would prevent wildland firefighters from receiving a pay cut that would otherwise begin on Oct. 1.

The bill would extend several expiring authorizations, including for the Federal Aviation Administration, which would go until the end of the year, and the National Flood Insurance Program, which would be extended through Nov. 17.

Senators voted 77-19 on Tuesday evening to advance the 79-page bill toward final passage.

House GOP starts debate 

U.S. House Republicans also made some progress Tuesday over funding the government, though not toward reaching agreement on the continuing resolution that they need to pass this week.

The House voted to begin debate on the Agriculture-FDA, Defense, Homeland Security and State-Foreign Operations government spending bills. The vote was 216-212. Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was the sole GOP lawmaker to vote against the procedural step.

McCarthy said during the Tuesday evening press conference that he planned to put a GOP continuing resolution on the floor later this week that also includes border security provisions. That spending proposal was released earlier this month and hasn’t yet garnered the support needed to go to the floor.

Any House CR wouldn’t be able to pass the Senate unless it could attract the support of at least 60 senators, making it unlikely the proposal would become law.

McCarthy also chastised senators who back aid to Ukraine, saying if they want to “focus on Ukraine and not focus on the Southern border, I think your priorities are backwards.”

Biden on Monday criticized McCarthy for not adhering to the spending caps agreement the two reached when they brokered a debt limit deal in May.

“We made a deal. We shook hands. We said, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ and now they’re reneging on the deal, which is not much of a surprise these days,” Biden said.

Americans, he said, shouldn’t allow the GOP to stay in power if they can’t avoid a partial government shutdown.

“Funding the government is one of the most basic fundamental responsibilities of the Congress,” Biden said. “And if Republicans in the House don’t start doing their job, we should stop electing them.”

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Jennifer Shutt
Jennifer Shutt

Jennifer covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include congressional policy, politics and legal challenges with a focus on health care, unemployment, housing and aid to families.