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Divided US Congress moves to avert government shutdown

US Senate passes temporary funding bill, sending measure to avoid partial gov’t shutdown to House of Representatives.

The United States Congress is moving to avert a government shutdown by passing a temporary spending measure in advance of a midnight deadline.

The US Senate passed the temporary funding bill on Thursday afternoon, sending the legislation – which would avoid a partial shutdown of US government agencies – to the House of Representatives for a vote expected later in the day.

“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 vote.

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.

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.

The stopgap government spending bill includes $6.3bn in assistance to pay for the US military’s August airlift from Kabul airport and for Afghan refugee resettlement programmes.

The US Congress is responding to two ‘fiscal fires’ at the moment [File: Jose Luis Magana/Reuters]

The bill’s passage “would avert a government shutdown that could furlough thousands of federal workers and suspend government services,” Zhou-Castro reported. “This stopgap measure funds the government through December 3 so that buys Congress some additional time.”

But Zhou-Castro pointed out 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.

Infrastructure

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.

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