America is in a dark place. There are no simple ways forward or easy solutions that could bring people together.
President Joe Biden has signed a stopgap bill passed earlier by Congress ahead of a midnight deadline to avoid forcing the US government to shut down due to lack of funding.
“There’s so much more to do. But the passage of this bill reminds us that bipartisan work is possible and it gives us time to pass longer-term funding to keep our government running and delivering for the American people,” Biden said in a statement on Thursday night.
In a separate statement announcing the signing of the funding bill, the White House said that it also includes “supplemental appropriations” for disaster relief as well as for Afghanistan evacuees.
Earlier, the House of Representatives voted by 254 votes to 175 to keep the lights on for another two months with a resolution that had already advanced comfortably from the Senate.
“This is a good outcome, one I’m happy we are getting done,” Chuck Schumer, the top Democratic senator, told colleagues on the chamber floor ahead of the 65-35 Senate vote.
Tonight I signed the continuing resolution to fund our government through December. It funds critical needs like our COVID-19 response, resettling our Afghan allies, and disaster assistance — and gives us more time to pass longer-term funding and deliver for the American people. pic.twitter.com/sUCtKugVto
— President Biden (@POTUS) September 30, 2021
Democratic and Republican Party leaders earlier had said they were “confident that the government will not shut down come midnight”, Al Jazeera’s Heidi Zhou-Castro reported from Capitol Hill.
But Thursday’s votes came amid days of political wrangling and uncertainty in Washington, DC, over whether a funding bill would be approved in time.
The last time the US government was forced to enter into a partial shutdown was in late 2018, when a spending clash between Congress and former President Donald Trump furloughed workers and stalled programmes for 35 days.
“This stopgap measure funds the government through December 3 so that buys Congress some additional time,” said Zhou-Castro, adding however that the government funding issue is “just one of two fiscal fires that Congress is confronting at this moment”.
Republicans and Democrats have clashed over extending the statutory limit on the amount of US Treasury debt that can be issued.
Republicans oppose Democrats spending plans and are refusing to vote for a debt limit increase, forcing Democrats to employ time-consuming budget procedures to pass an increase with only Democratic votes in the 50-50 Senate.
A historic debt default could occur around October 18, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has estimated, if Congress fails to act.
“What that means is that at that point, the US will no longer be able to borrow more money to pay its bills – that has never happened before in history,” Zhou-Castro explained. “And economists are saying if that does happen, it could be disastrous, throwing the US economy into recession and echoing across global markets.”
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders are careening towards a showdown with a group of progressive Democrats about the size and scope of the legislation to implement President Joe Biden’s social agenda and climate policies.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was meeting with competing factions of her party at the Capitol in a last-minute bid to win support for a $1-trillion infrastructure spending measure due for an up-or-down vote on Thursday.
“We are in a good place right now, we are making progress,” Pelosi said during a news conference. The top House Democrat, however, declined to predict whether the infrastructure bill, which won bipartisan support earlier this year in the Senate, would pass in the House.
House progressives led by Representative Pramila Jayapal have refused to support the infrastructure bill until Congress agrees on a larger $3.5-trillion budget measure that would include Biden’s social and climate agenda.
Senator Joe Manchin, a holdout among Democrats on the $3.5-trillion spending plan in the Senate, told reporters at the US Capitol that he was willing to negotiate with progressives on a smaller budget bill around $1.5 trillion.
“I’m willing to sit down and negotiate that $1.5 trillion and get our priorities and … they can come back and do the rest of it later,” Manchin said.
Behind closed doors, Democrats were negotiating over which favoured proposals to curtail or cut among tax cuts for the middle-class, paid family leave and child care, early childhood education, boosts in healthcare benefits for the elderly and clean energy provisions essential to the US meeting its climate goals.