US Congress passes bill to avert government shutdown, sends it to Biden

By Reuters   January 18, 2024 | 07:32 pm PT
US Congress passes bill to avert government shutdown, sends it to Biden
A session of the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 6, 2023. Photo by AFP
The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a stopgap bill to fund the federal government through early March and avert a partial government shutdown, sending it to President Joe Biden for final approval.

The measure passed 314-108, with 106 Republicans and two Democrats in opposition.

Earlier on Thursday, the Senate had easily passed the bill, with a 77-18 vote ahead of the weekend deadline.

"We have good news for America. There will not be a shutdown on Friday," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said on the Senate floor just before the vote in that chamber.

That sentiment was not shared by some far-right House Republicans.

"It's a loss for the American people to join hands with Democrats, form a governing coalition to do what Schumer and the Senate want to do," House Freedom Caucus Chairman Bob Good told reporters after the vote.

Both chambers accelerated their votes because of a forecast for a snowstorm on Friday that could have snarled lawmakers' departure for the weekend.

The Democratic-majority Senate and Republican-controlled House are far behind in carrying out their basic duty of funding the government for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, with lawmakers scrambling to keep the lights on to give them more time to pass a full-year bill.

Schumer and his House Republican counterpart, Mike Johnson, early this month agreed to a $1.59 trillion discretionary spending level for the year that ends on Sept. 30. But in a sign of how bitterly the Congress is divided, the two parties now disagree on that number, with Democrats saying the actual amount agreed to is $1.66 trillion.

The intense jockeying between House Republicans seeking deep spending cuts and Democrats comes amid a $34.4 trillion national debt that is rapidly escalating and has prompted worries in part because of the heavy interest payments now being borne by the Treasury Department.

This third stopgap funding bill, known as a "continuing resolution" or "CR," would simply extend last fiscal year's spending levels until two deadlines of March 1 and March 8 for completing action of spending for various government agencies.

With the temporary funding bill now on its way to enactment, the focus shifts to the need to pass the 12 bills providing the full-year budget.

In the House, Johnson could face blowback from hardline members of his party who oppose such stopgap funding bills without deep spending cuts.

That displeasure led last fall to the toppling of Johnson's predecessor, Kevin McCarthy.

So far, some of those hardliners were expressing tolerance toward Johnson, despite the dismal support from House Republicans.

"He's just playing the cards he's dealt," said Representative Tim Burchett, referring to Johnson.

Burchett had voted to oust McCarthy from the speakership after a bipartisan stopgap vote in September. "It doesn't really upset me anymore. It's just reality," he said. "Johnson didn't create this problem."

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