Congress Avoids Government Shutdown With Two-Month Funding Bill

Amid the bargaining and grandstanding on Capitol Hill this week about Joe Biden’s gargantuan “Build Back Better” two-part spending bill, Congress quietly agreed on a two-month funding bill that will keep the federal government open until December 3. The measure also allowed Congress to sidestep the issue of suspending the federal debt limit.

The House sent a short-term funding bill to the Senate earlier this week that included a suspension of the federal debt limit. Senate Republicans blocked that bill before the Senate passed a “clean” funding bill that did not suspend the debt limit. The bill passed 65-35 on a bipartisan basis and was then quickly passed by the House. The measure was then sent to President Biden for his signature.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told Democrats that Senate Republicans would not raise the debt limit at the beginning of the week. He insisted that if Democrats intended to increase the ceiling at this time, it would have to be done by reconciliation on a strict party-line basis.

The federal government would have lost funding at midnight Thursday. The Treasury Department had warned that the debt limit would have been reached sometime in October without a continuing resolution.

Democrats said that they did not want to set a precedent of having funding bills enacted by reconciliation by only one party. Several Republicans sought to force Democrats to accept responsibility alone for a debt limit increase.

Top Congressional Democrats Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) issued a statement last week claiming that a suspension of the debt limit through the end of 2022 would provide a period without a debt crisis that matches the amount of new federal debt incurred from “last winter’s bipartisan $908 billion emergency COVID relief legislation.” 

Their joint statement emphasized the bipartisan nature of the COVID relief bill signed into law by President Donald Trump.

The funding measure includes significant funding for domestic disaster relief for damage caused by hurricanes and wildfires this year. It also provides funding for Afghan evacuees airlifted during the chaotic withdrawal of US military forces from Afghanistan this summer.