WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden signed a stopgap funding measure Thursday with hours to spare before federal agencies would otherwise have to start shutting down.
The continuing resolution gives lawmakers and the White House nine more weeks to reach agreement on spending levels and negotiate a dozen fiscal 2022 appropriations bills.
The temporary spending bill, which cleared the House earlier in the day on a 254-175 vote, is “not a permanent solution,” House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said during debate. “I look forward to soon beginning negotiations with my counterparts across the aisle and across the Capitol to complete full-year government funding bills that reverse decades of disinvestment.”
Thirty-four Republicans joined all Democrats to back the stopgap measure in that chamber.
The House in July passed nine of its 12 spending bills, at allocations Republicans oppose because funding increases are heavily weighted to nondefense programs, which would receive about 16% more on average versus almost 2% for defense. House and Senate fiscal 2022 defense policy bills with broad bipartisan support envision a roughly 5% boost for military programs, however.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved three bills and hasn’t reached agreement on overall subcommittee allocations. Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., said Thursday his version would likely be released Oct. 15, suggesting that the remaining bills would also be unveiled then.
Tester was coy about whether his bill would be in line with the defense authorization bill’s higher topline. “There’s people that can screw it up, but the truth is I think both sides should be relatively happy,” he said.
The Senate vote on the stopgap measure earlier Thursday was 65-35, topping a 60-vote threshold party leaders agreed to. All the “no” votes came from Republicans, but passage wasn’t really in doubt after Democratic leaders agreed to drop language in the original House-passed version that would have suspended the debt ceiling through the midterm elections next year.
Republicans oppose lifting the debt limit, arguing Democrats should be responsible for that on their own. The Treasury Department estimates it has until about Oct. 18 before needing to severely curtail federal spending virtually across the board, which some economists say could spark a recession.
With no clear path out of the stalemate, Senate leaders continued sparring over the nation’s borrowing limit ahead of the CR vote Thursday.
“The conclusion to draw from this week is very clear — clumsy efforts at partisan jams do not work,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the floor. “We’re able to fund the government today because the majority accepted reality. The same thing will need to happen on the debt limit next week.”
Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., argued a debt ceiling breach was too dangerous to be held up because of partisan infighting, and said he’d move to proceed to separate legislation to suspend the debt limit “as early as next week.” The House on Wednesday passed the stand-alone debt limit bill, which would suspend the borrowing cap until Dec. 17, 2022, on a mostly party-line 219-212 vote.
Schumer suggested the measure could pass with only Democratic votes if Republicans would agree to a simple majority threshold. “Republicans need to get out of the way, so Senate Democrats can address the issue quickly and without needlessly endangering the stability of our economy,” he said.
Earlier this week Republicans blocked a unanimous consent request to allow a vote on a separate debt ceiling suspension bill Schumer offered.
The stopgap bill extends federal agencies’ current spending rates, with some exceptions known as “anomalies,” through Dec. 3, as well as certain expiring program authorizations like the National Flood Insurance Program’s ability to sell new policies and renew existing ones.
The measure provides $28.6 billion to address natural disasters like Hurricane Ida which slammed into the Gulf Coast earlier this month, and $6.3 billion to provide resettlement assistance for Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban. Another $2.5 billion goes toward care and shelter for undocumented migrant children who crossed the border alone while the government reviews their status.
Before approving the stopgap spending bill, senators rejected three Republican amendments that would have changed provisions in the legislation addressing Afghan resettlement, barred a vaccine mandate for private businesses and prevented lawmakers from being paid until Congress adopts a budget resolution and clears all dozen of the annual appropriations bills.
The proposal on Afghan refugees from Arkansas’ Sen. Tom Cotton would have ended resettlement aid and other assistance for Afghan “parolees,” or individuals admitted into the U.S. for a limited time on humanitarian grounds, on March 31, 2023. That’s earlier than in the underlying bill, which would allow refugee benefits to continue for Afghan refugees arriving later, including parents, spouses and children admitted after the next fiscal year ends.
Cotton’s amendment would have barred Afghan parolees from automatic eligibility for driver’s licenses and other identification cards that comply with Real ID standards, needed to board airplanes after May 3, 2023. Parolees would still be allowed to apply for such licenses in their respective states. His amendment was rejected on a straight party-line vote, 50-50.
House Appropriations ranking member Kay Granger, R-Texas, said during debate in her chamber that she agreed with the concerns Cotton raised with the Afghan parolee program and hoped they could be addressed in another vehicle.
The Senate rejected an amendment from Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., that would have prevented the federal government from spending money to implement COVID-19 vaccine mandates for private employers. The vote was 50-50.
The Biden administration has called on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to draft regulations requiring employers with 100 or more employees to require vaccines or weekly testing. Once the rules are final, companies could face fines up to $14,000 for each employee not complying.
The Senate voted 53-47 for an amendment from Indiana Sen. Mike Braun that would have prevented lawmakers from getting their paychecks if Congress doesn’t adopt a budget resolution and clear all 12 appropriations bills on time, before the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30. But the amendment wasn’t adopted because 60 votes were required.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., spoke against all three amendments ahead of the vote, saying if they were added to the CR “we would not be able to get the continuing resolution done, the government would close, billions of dollars would go out the window and we would not have done our job.”
Leahy’s substitute amendment dropping the debt limit language from the underlying bill was then adopted by voice vote.
The House voted 220-211 along party lines last week to send the original bill, with the debt limit language, to the Senate after removing a provision that would have provided $1 billion for Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system. The Israeli government requested the funding, which the Biden administration endorsed following rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip in May.
Republicans grumbled about the money being left out of the CR, but stand-alone legislation to appropriate the $1 billion seems likely to clear Congress soon. The House passed a separate bill to provide the Iron Dome funds on a 420-9 vote, and Schumer has begun the process of putting the measure on the Senate calendar for consideration.
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