Senate sends temporary budget bill to Biden avoiding federal shutdown
WASHINGTON — The Senate gave final approval on Thursday to legislation averting a weekend government shutdown, sending President Joe Biden a measure designed to give bipartisan negotiators more time to hammer out an overdue deal funding federal agencies until ‘in autumn.
Final passage was by a 65-27 bipartisan vote, five more than the 60 votes needed. The House easily approved the bill last week. Each party had concluded that a halt to the election year would be politically damaging, particularly during a pandemic and a confrontation with Russia over its possible invasion of Ukraine.
Yet, as with virtually all must-have bills, politics has come to a halt. Ahead of the passage, the Tories forced votes on amendments, including on one of the year’s burning issues, COVID-19 vaccine mandates. They were defeated mostly along party lines.
One by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and several colleagues reportedly blocked existing federal vaccine requirements for military, government employees and contractors, and healthcare workers. Another from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, reportedly halted federal funds for school districts imposing their own vaccine requirements.
Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., has proposed another demanding that Congress’ nonbinding federal budgets balance within 10 years.
The United Democrats can defeat the GOP proposals in the Senate 50-50 with the deciding vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. But with Harris in Europe and some Democrats missing due to illness or ill spouses, Democrats prevailed after several Republicans also left to travel or start House vacations.
A separate GOP decision to block federal spending on pipes used for crack cocaine faded after the Biden administration said it never planned to and would not. The money is part of a program to help drug addicts avoid further harm.
Amending the bill would have caused complications as the House also went on vacation, but would have had to pass the revamped version before sending it to Biden.
Without the Senate passing the same House bill, the agencies would have had to stop operating over the weekend. The legislation will fund the government until March 11.
Both sides hope the short-term measure will be the last needed as negotiators work out compromise bills for funding agencies until September 30. Since the start of the government’s fiscal year on October 1, federal agencies have operated at the spending levels approved in the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.
The new spending bills will be bipartisan compromises, but will allow Biden and the Democrats controlling Congress to put more emphasis on spending priorities. They are also expected to provide defense increases that the GOP wants.
Over the past few decades, Congress has routinely completed its budget work months behind schedule. Avoiding stoppages caused by fan scoring has become an achievement, not a given.