WASHINGTON — Congress made a last-minute dash to avert a government shutdown on Thursday, with the U.S. Senate approving a short-term spending bill just hours ahead of a midnight deadline.
Every Democratic and independent senator and 15 Republicans supported the bill in the 65-35 vote. The GOP senators in the “aye” tally included Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy of Louisiana; Susan Collins of Maine; Roy Blunt of Missouri; and Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
The House later passed the federal spending bill — which will keep government agencies funded at current levels through Dec. 3, and provide $28.6 billion in aid for regions struck by extreme weather — on a vote of 254-175.
Every House Democrat and 34 House Republicans voted to send the measure to President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign it.
“This vote says we are keeping the government open,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-N.Y.), said Thursday, calling it a “glimmer of hope” as Congress faces a slew of other legislative challenges.
Just voted to fund the government—we are not going to allow the US government to shut down on Democrats' watch.
Now, despite Republicans blocking action, Democrats are going to find a solution to raise the debt ceiling and avoid the first credit default in American history.
— Tim Kaine (@timkaine) September 30, 2021
Chief among those is increasing the federal borrowing limit, which must be done to prevent a default on the nation’s debt obligations. That default could occur as soon as mid-October, according to Treasury officials.
Democrats, who barely control the split 50-50 Senate, initially sought to advance legislation that would have increased the national debt limit, in addition to the provisions to avert a government shutdown and to approve disaster aid. A shutdown could have a major consequences in Virginia, where thousands of federal employees live.
But GOP senators opposed raising the debt limit at a time when Democrats also are seeking to push through a massive social spending plan with no Republican support. They blocked an attempt Monday to begin debate on that broader bill.
Democrats expressed frustration that Republicans would risk a default. But ultimately they were forced to push off the extension of the debt limit, which will need to be done with only Democratic votes to avoid economic chaos.
I'm proud to have voted to avert a government shutdown today, but we're not in the clear yet.
We'll continue to head toward economic calamity unless we lift the debt ceiling in a bipartisan way. I urge my Republican friends to join us in avoiding a default on our nation's debt.
— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) September 30, 2021
Several GOP-drafted amendments to the spending bill failed during Thursday’s Senate floor votes, including one from Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas.
Marshall’s amendment sought to prohibit the use of federal funds in enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandates. He argued that receiving a vaccine should be a “personal choice” and not one that is mandated by the federal government.
The amendment failed on a 50-50 vote. Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.), argued against Marshall’s amendment, saying it would “weaken one of our strongest tools to get people through this crisis.”
Meanwhile, other major pieces of the Democratic agenda remain stalled in Congress.
It remains unclear if Democratic leaders in the House will bring up President Joe Biden’s infrastructure legislation on Thursday.
Key surface transportation programs are set to expire after Thursday, but progressives have opposed voting for the road-and-bridge funding while the fate of a separate but linked proposal to expand a raft of social safety-net programs remains in flux.
Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia have opposed the $3.5 trillion price tag of the proposal drafted based on Biden’s “Build Back Better” policy plan. Democratic leaders have sought to pass that measure through the reconciliation process, which would allow it to be approved with 50 votes and without any support from Republicans.
This post has been updated to reflect the House of Representatives’ vote approving the bill.