Monday, October 2, 2023

Biden Signs Stopgap Funding Bill Passed by Congress, Averting Government Shutdown

The U.S. Capitol Building following passage in the House of a 45-day continuing resolution in Washington, on Sept. 30, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images) 

The Senate ratified a 45-day continuing resolution passed earlier today by the House, which President Joe Biden signed late Saturday night, thus averting a government shutdown that would otherwise have occurred at midnight.

The 88-9 vote included broad bipartisan support, although the final bill did not include the additional $6.15 billion in aid for Ukraine that many senators had pressed for.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) praised the bipartisanship in both houses that brought the bill to completion.

“I have very good news for the country. Democrats and Republicans have come to an agreement and the government will remain open. We will have avoided a shutdown. Bipartisanship, which has been the trademark of the Senate, has prevailed, and the American people can breathe a sigh of relief,” Mr. Schumer said.

“The clearest path forward has been to pass a straightforward short term funding extension. It gives us time to continue a number of important discussions about outstanding priorities,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who pledged to continue working to complete the regular appropriations process.

The continuing resolution (CR) extends federal funding at the current rate for 45 days. It also includes money for disaster relief and a reauthorization of Federal Aviation Authority funding.

The omission of additional funding for the war effort in Ukraine threatened to derail the bill. In the end, senators agreed that funding for Ukraine could be provided through other legislation.

“I think we do need to send a strong signal to Russia that its aggression in Ukraine will not be tolerated and that we are not pulling back … from supporting Ukraine,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who theorized that a supplemental spending bill or the defense appropriations bill might be used.

“I think there are a lot of ways of getting assistance to Ukraine,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters just ahead of the vote. “We all believe in stopping Russian aggression. And we all believe that it’s in America’s national security interest for Ukraine to succeed on the battlefield. And I think that America’s commitment to that is clear.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Min.) said before the vote she hoped to see “uninterrupted aid to Ukraine,” adding, “That’s going to be our number one goal” in the next few weeks.

This bipartisan compromise puts to rest, temporarily, the threat of a government shutdown. Yet it does not resolve the problem underlying the brinkmanship, a dispute over the appropriations process itself.

A Compromise Bill

The measure was hurriedly assembled by House Republicans, who scrambled to find an alternative after their preferred CR was torpedoed by members of their own party the previous day.

Epoch Times Photo
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks with reporters during a press conference in Congress on Sept. 19, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

Mr. McCarthy originally presented a CR that extended funding for only 31 days with an overall 8 percent reduction in non-defense discretionary spending and the addition of a package of border security provisions.

That bill was brought to the House on Sept. 29 but failed as 21 Republicans joined Democrats in opposing it.

“Would I have wanted the bill we put on the floor yesterday that would secure our border and cut wasteful spending? Yes, I did. But I had some members in our own conference that wouldn’t vote for that,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters shortly after the House vote on Saturday.

“At the end of the day, we kept the government open, kept paying our troops to finish the job we have to get done,” he added.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) praised the bill as a defeat for what he called Republican extremism. “[It] did not contain a single poison pill or policy rider the extreme MAGA Republicans were trying to jam down the throats of the American people,” he told reporters moments after the bill’s passage.

As for additional funding for Ukraine, favored by many Democrats, Mr. Jeffries said, “We have to get to vote on this issue, and that should be done sooner rather than later to ensure that we are providing the training and the resources necessary to Ukraine to fight courageously to defeat Vladimir Putin and Russia.”

Process Problem, Not Spending Fight

Only Congress can authorize the government to spend money, which it does through annual appropriations bills. Twelve appropriations bills are required, one for each major federal department. The government’s fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, so the authority to spend money expires on that day unless new spending has been authorized.

Previous shutdown threats have been driven by demands by the leadership in one party or the other for specific spending or tax-cut initiatives. That has resulted in 10 government shutdowns since 1981, most lasting only a few days.

The term “shutdown” is not entirely accurate because only non-essential government functions are suspended. Most government activities continue, though many people—including members of the armed services—must work without pay for the duration. Even so, any shutdown is costly and disruptive, and both Republican and Democratic leaders have been eager to avoid one this year.

This time the brinkmanship was driven by rank-and-file members of the House in a dispute over the process by which spending bills are passed in Congress, not over specific spending demands.

Mr. McCarthy first mentioned the possibility of a CR on Sept. 1 when it became apparent that both houses of Congress would once again fail to pass the 12 appropriations bills required to fund the federal government before the end of the fiscal year.

While Congress has accomplished that task only a handful of times in the last 50 years, it generally has had little trouble agreeing to a CR to extend the current year’s funding for a set period of time.

A loosely organized group of Republican fiscal hawks immediately signaled their opposition to a CR. They did so on the grounds that it would inevitably lead to additional delays in creating a full-year spending plan, which would result in the necessity of a last-minute catch-all bill that would fund the entire discretionary budget in a single up-or-down vote—with no time to full debate or offer amendments.

“There’s no such thing as a ‘clean’ CR,” Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) told reporters on Sept. 30. “To keep in place the Biden-Pelosi-Schumer policies for another 30 days or 45 days, to keep the spending levels that are bankrupting the country, that is only going to lead to another CR or an omnibus. I predict if we pass a CR we will stop passing our spending bills.”

The speaker delayed bringing any CR to the House until Sept. 29, hoping to convince holdouts that the House would continue working diligently on passing conservative appropriations bills.

Epoch Times Photo
U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks with reporters in Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 18, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

That effort was unsuccessful, and the vote failed.

The CR passed in the House today, and then by the Senate, drew even more opposition from House Republicans with 90 voting against it. It passed only with the overwhelming support of House Democrats.

Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) called the passage of the bill an abdication of Congress’s responsibility to complete the funding process by passing appropriations bills.

“We further abdicated our duties. We decided to kick the can down the road 45 more days,” he said in a video released on X. “That’s not the way this country should run, but it’s run that way for the last 30 years.”

The House has so far passed four of the 12 required appropriations bills, representing about 70 percent of federal discretionary spending. The Senate has passed no appropriations bills.

The CR will expire on Nov. 17.

Emel Akan and Ryusuke Abe contributed to this report.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the CR expiry date. The Epoch Times regrets the error.

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