US Senate races against time to avert government shutdown

US Senate | Credits: Reuters
US Senate | Credits: Reuters

United States: The US Senate will attempt to pass a continuing resolution that funds the federal government through early March, thus averting the partial shutdown scheduled for Saturday evening if Congress doesn’t act.

Bipartisan Struggle Delays Approval of Annual Budget

The Democratic-majority Senate and Republican House of Representatives lag behind their simple task of financing the government for a fiscal year that began on October 1 as lawmakers strive to stay open until early March, temporarily so they can pass an annual budget.

In early May, top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer and House Republican Mike Johnson struck a deal for a $1.59 trillion level in discretionary spending for the fiscal year 2023 that ends in September. While this just shows the level of divisiveness in Congress, both parties now find themselves at odds regarding that amount, with Democrats arguing that $1.66 trillion was agreed on.

“I think we’re on a good path to getting it done,” Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock told Reuters, referring to the prospects of passing the temporary spending bill on Thursday or Friday.

The aggressive jockeying between House Republicans seeking major expenditure cuts and Democrats comes amid a quickly increasing $34.4 trillion national debt, which has raised concerns, in part due to the Treasury Department’s high-interest payments.

March Deadlines Loom 

This third such continuing resolution, commonly known as a CR, would continue last year’s spending levels but until two deadlines of March 1 and March 8 for providing funds to various government agencies.

Democratic Representative Josh Gottheimer described the consequences of potential government agency shutdowns, including a growing backlog of veterans seeking disability benefits, a suspension of aircraft safety inspections, and a freeze on Agriculture Department loans and other services to rural communities. Another example, further ahead, is that over 1 million military personnel would be temporarily without pay.

“I think we will take up the CR tomorrow,” Collins said. But she expressed frustration at how long it was taking to divide up the money for the 12 bills providing the full-year budget, adding, “This has been dragging on for a long time, and I really don’t know why.”

If the Senate passes the CR, it will be sent to the House, where Johnson may meet opposition from hardline members of his party who oppose such transitory financing bills without major budget cutbacks.

That displeasure resulted in Johnson’s predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, being removed from office last November.