- Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer says the Senate could vote today on a bill to fund government.
- A shutdown could cause national parks to close their doors and may cause slowdowns at airports.
- President Joe Biden canceled a trip to Chicago so he could work with Congress.
WASHINGTON – Congress could take action Wednesday to fund the government as the clock ticks down on a shutdown looming Friday.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the chamber could vote as early as Wednesday on a temporary extension of funding until early December. The bill would then head to the House for a vote and to President Joe Biden for his signature.
“We can approve this measure quickly and send it to the House so it can reach the president’s desk before funding expires midnight tomorrow,” Schumer said.
Government funding expires with the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30. The House had approved a combined spending extension and increase in the debt limit. But Senate Republicans blocked the bill Monday, arguing that Democrats should raise the debt limit on their own.
Senate leaders are checking to see if any senator would block a move to approve just a funding bill.
The funding bill would provide government operating through Dec. 3, to give lawmakers time to approve routine spending measures for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. The bill would also provide $28.6 billion for disaster assistance and $6.3 billion for Afghan refugees.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Tuesday lawmakers are waiting for the Senate to send them a funding extension, which the House could ratify.
The House Rules Committee will also consider legislation to raise the amount the country can borrow because the limit is projected to be exhausted Oct. 18, which could result in a worldwide economic catastrophe if the government couldn’t pay its bills.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Wednesday she could postpone a Thursday vote on infrastructure until compromise language is negotiated with the Senate and President Joe Biden on a $3.5 trillion package of social welfare programs. But she also said she wants infrastructure to be approved Thursday.
“We’re doing it simultaneously,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi said negotiations over the $3.5 trillion were unsettled because some senators are asking for a lower price tag.
“That completely sets off the timetable,” Pelosi said. “I can’t keep a commitment that the Senate has made it impossible to do. But what I’ve also said is we’re not proceeding with anything that doesn’t have agreement between the House and Senate. And that’s where we’re working.”
Pelosi repeated her commitment to a Thursday vote on infrastructure, but also said she has the power to postpone it.
“The speaker has that authority. But I want it to pass,” Pelosi said of infrastructure. “What we want to do is to pass it” Thursday.
The challenge is that in a narrowly divided House, the loss of four Democrats on any bill could lead to its rejection.
A group of moderate House Democrats negotiated for the vote on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which includes $550 billion in new spending, separate from the $3.5 trillion package.
But Pelosi delayed a Monday vote until Thursday because of threatened opposition from progressive Democrats. Progressive lawmakers insisted that the two measures move in tandem, to avoid lawmakers supporting one measure without the other.
– Bart Jansen
Two Republican senators who often object to Democratic strategies on the Senate floor each said Wednesday they wouldn’t object to a plan to extend government funding into early December, to avoid a shutdown Friday.
Government funding expires Thursday at midnight with the end of the fiscal year. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., outlined a plan Wednesday to vote on a temporary extension of funding to early December, but he would need unanimous consent from senators to hold the vote.
Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, each said they wouldn’t object.
“We’re not going to object to condensing time” on the spending bill, Paul said
– Bart Jansen
Apart from the spending decision, Congress must still tackle the debt limit. The House is set to vote Thursday on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.
But progressive House Democrats oppose approving the infrastructure bill unless a $3.5 trillion package of President Joe Biden’s social welfare priorities is also resolved. Senate Republicans have argued the only way for Democrats to raise the debt limit quickly is to attach it to the $3.5 trillion package, which could further complicate those talks.
Biden postponed a Wednesday trip to Chicago, where he planned to promote the importance of vaccinations against COVID-19, in order to continue negotiations about infrastructure and social programs.
But Biden will attend a memorial service Wednesday for the late Susan Bayh, the wife of former Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., at the Washington National Cathedral.
Biden has met for days with groups of Democratic lawmakers representing different factions in the debate. He has held several meetings with Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who have each said the $3.5 trillion price tag is too high.
“They had a constructive meeting, agreed that we are at a pivotal moment, need to continue to work to finalize the path forward,” Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said Tuesday.
Manchin said afterward that no commitments were made, such as for an overall spending figure, but talks continue.
The Thursday vote on infrastructure will test whether the sparring factions of Democrats will unite behind the bill approved in the Senate with a bipartisan majority.
A group of nine House moderates negotiated for a vote Monday on the measure, so it wouldn’t be tied to the more contentious $3.5 trillion package. But as progressive Democrats threatened to oppose it, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., moved the vote to Thursday, when the federal highway program expires.
If Republicans oppose the bill in the narrowly divided House, the loss of four Democrats could sink the measure.
A leader of the moderates, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., voiced confidence Tuesday that the vote would be held Thursday and that the bill would be approved.
“There is nothing partisan about fixing our roads and bridges and tunnels,” he said.
But the head of the Progressive Caucus, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said dozens of Democrats would oppose infrastructure unless they also have the final language for the $3.5 trillion package that can win approval in the House and Senate.
“This agenda is not some fringe wish list: it is the President’s agenda, the Democratic agenda, and what we all promised voters when they delivered us the House, Senate and White House,” Jayapal said in a statement.