Congress Inches Toward Spending Deal, Clearing a Weeklong Extension

WASHINGTON — Congress cleared a one-week spending bill on Thursday to avert a government shutdown this weekend, buying additional time for lawmakers to resolve frenzied negotiations over a broader spending package to keep agencies and departments funded through next fall.

The Senate approved the measure 71 to 19, a day after the House acted and barely 24 hours before funding was set to lapse. President Biden was expected to sign it before the midnight Friday deadline.

With the immediate threat of a shutdown averted, senior lawmakers in both parties aimed to hammer out the details of a longer-term package whose general outlines were agreed to this week. That package is expected to total roughly $1.7 trillion and would ensure that the government remained funded through September.

“For the last two years, the 117th Congress has not had a single government shutdown,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader. “Not one. Not even for a day. I hope we don’t start now, just as we approach the finish line.”

The vote came days after senior lawmakers announced they had reached agreement on overall funding levels for the plan, a crucial step toward ironing out the final details. Such a deal had eluded lawmakers for weeks, as Republicans demanded a higher increase in funding for the military relative to the education, health and veterans programs Democrats have long championed.

A New U.S. Congress Takes Shape

Following the 2022 midterm elections, Democrats maintained control of the Senate while Republicans flipped the House.

  • McCarthy’s Fraught Speaker Bid: Representative Kevin McCarthy has so far been unable to quash a mini-revolt on the right that threatens to imperil his effort to secure the top House job.
  • Kyrsten Sinema: The Arizona senator said that she would leave the Democratic Party and register as an independent, just days after the Democrats secured an expanded majority in the Senate.
  • A Looming Clash: Congressional leaders have all but abandoned the idea of acting to raise the debt ceiling before Democrats lose control of the House, punting the issue to a new Congress.
  • First Gen Z Congressman: In the weeks after his election, Representative-elect Maxwell Frost of Florida, a Democrat, has learned just how different his perspective is from that of his older colleagues.

With negotiations continuing, lawmakers have declined to offer specifics about funding levels. But the package is expected to include $858 billion in military spending, matching the amount laid out in a military policy bill that cleared Congress on Thursday.

Even with the tentative agreement, there was not enough time to finish the longer-term spending measure, seen as the last must-pass legislation before Congress concludes its work and leaves Washington for Christmas, before the looming shutdown deadline. Lawmakers also view the package as a vehicle to approve several unfinished priorities, including aid for Ukraine in its war against Russia, relief for communities devastated by natural disasters this year and a bipartisan bill to overhaul how Congress counts electoral votes and certifies the results of a presidential election.

With Republicans set to take control of the House in early January and retiring lawmakers eager to pass a final set of funding and legislative priorities, Democrats and several Republicans have labored to complete the spending package before the congressional term ends, rather than leaving one to be finished in the new year.

But House Republicans have pressed for doing just that, believing that punting would allow them to try to use their new majority to secure deep spending cuts.

“We have a bipartisan, bicameral framework in place — let’s have the courage to sit and vote it up or down,” Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, urged his colleagues on Thursday. “Don’t keep kicking the can down the road — it helps no one.”

Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the committee, added this week that he believed it was essential for Congress to complete the annual funding process: “I’ve always said that, and I’ve tried to do it.”

It was a notable contrast from House Republican leaders, who openly criticized Mr. Shelby, Mr. Leahy and others for negotiating a compromise. They kept all but nine Republicans from backing the stopgap bill when it passed the House on Wednesday. In the Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, and several other Republicans backed the stopgap spending bill.

The support reflected a concern among many Republicans that leaving the spending package until early 2023 could be a recipe for disaster for their party, which includes many lawmakers who refuse to vote for federal spending, raising the prospect of a government shutdown just as they take power in the House.

The Senate also defeated two Republican proposals — an effort by Senator Mike Lee of Utah to punt the deadline to early March and an amendment from Senator Rick Scott of Florida to cut funding for the I.R.S. — to preserve the House-passed measure and avoid a shutdown.

With Mr. Biden expected to sign the temporary measure, lawmakers and aides were working to resolve their differences over the broader government funding measure and a flurry of demands to include other bills in the last legislative package of the year.

Lawmakers were weighing whether they should include several bipartisan bills, including a package of tax extensions, and multiple mental health and science bills.

Back to top button