US Congress Moves to Avoid Government Shutdown; to Approve $858 Billion in Military Spending

The US Congress is taking up a huge $1.7 trillion funding package in a week-long session in the House of Representatives in a valiant effort to avoid government shutdown over the weekend, preventing history from repeating itself as it did during Donald Trump's presidency.

The House scheduled the weeklong session to discuss the spending bill to avert a government shutdown this weekend, as legislators jumped into action to help cement an emerging deal on a sprawling spending package to keep federal programs running into next fall, the New York Times reported.

Disagreements

Discussion on the funding package had been stalled for weeks over disagreements about how to go about it. The measure is expected to buy time to finalise an agreed-upon outline announced late Tuesday by a trio of senior lawmakers in both parties, backed by party leaders, for a longer-term package expected to total about $1.7 trillion.

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As no details were disclosed, the lawmakers projected optimism that it would smoothen the way for a final action before Christmas to resolve the remaining disputes and fund the government.

"We have a framework that provides a path forward to enact an omnibus next week," said Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, adding that the committees were prepared to "work around the clock" to finish the legislation.

Huge Spending

Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, the panel's top Republican, both endorsed her suggestion.

While the House Republicans were quiet on the deal, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, expecting speakership of the house, is toiling to win over extreme right-wing colleagues who are opposing the Joe Biden government's huge spending. Republicans have been instructed by their whip to vote against the spending bill, media reports said.

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However, the Democrats have enough votes to push through the legislation without Republican support if they remain largely united on it, the Times said, adding news of the broad outline came just days before government funding was set to lapse at midnight on Friday.

To avoid a government shutdown with a Republican mood to oppose the Democrats $1.7 trillion package, the house was considering a week long adhoc spending bill that would extend it through Dec. 23. The bill then goes to the Senate which is expected to pass it before the Friday deadline. The current Senate is a 50:50 tie but the VP Kamala Harris will rescue the bill by casting her tie breaking vote.

With Republicans set to take control of the House in January 2023 and a group of retiring lawmakers looking to protect a final round of funding priorities, Democrats and several Senate Republicans are of the view that letting talks drag into the New Year was inappropriate.

Texas Representative Kay Granger, Republican, who is set to lead the House Appropriations Committee in January next year when her party assumes house majority, was conspicuous by her absence.

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Some House Republicans, backed by a few Senators, have pushed to pass a short-term spending measure that would fund the government until the opening days of the next Congress in January, which would give them the ability to leverage their new majority in the House to push for sharp spending cuts, media reports said.

However, a section of the Republican Party members fear that such a move on spending to push through spending cuts could lead to disastrous consequences for their party's nascent majority. And this could result in a potential shutdown that would put the party's inability on display even as it seeks to retake power in the Congress on the Capitol Hill with its new 222 majority in the house to Democrats 213.

Spending talks on the monetary legislation were virtually paralysed for weeks over disagreements about how to divide up money between military and domestic programmes. Republicans opposed increasing the share of domestic funding, noting that Democrats over the last two years had muscled through trillions of dollars in climate, health care and social safety net spending, rejecting their staunch opposition to them.

Shelby, who spoke to reporters on Capitol Hill, said the total for the spending framework was around $1.7 trillion, though he declined to focus on the optics of the funding package. He described the spending level for the domestic programmes Democrats prize as one "we think we can live with".

As the Republican support is badly needed to overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the evenly divided Senate, aides in both parties conceded that it was likely that Democrats would agree to a higher overall military spending number. Legislators were expected to agree to a figure of around $858 billion in military spending - a number fixed by a separate defense policy bill expected to pass in the Senate this week.

"Republicans simply were not going to lavish extra liberal spending on the commander in chief's own party as reward for adequately funding our national defense - it simply wasn't going to happen," said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, in his address on Wednesday. "The framework agreement doesn't mean the hard work is over. It means the hard work can finally start."

Lawmakers and aides are now scrambling to not only finalise the details of the broader government funding measure, which would last through September 2023, but to agree on what other legislation could be included in the last must-pass legislative package of the year, media reports said.

The measure also is expected to include emergency aid for Ukraine in its war against Russia, funds to help local communities recover from hurricanes and other natural disasters that caused devastation in the last year, and an overhaul of the Electoral Count Act, the statute that former President Trump sought unsuccessfully to exploit to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election.

Lawmakers are also struggling to include a wide range of tax extensions, such as reviving the lapsed expansion of monthly payments to most families with children, and a series of bipartisan health and science bills.

The House on Wednesday approved a short-term measure that extends funding for the federal government for another week, till December 23, buying more time for lawmakers to finish crafting a massive omnibus spending bill in the waning days of this Congress.

The vote was 224-201 with nine Republicans joining the Democratic majority. The legislation next heads to the Senate, which could take it up as soon as Thursday. Passing a temporary funding bill in the House is a major step to stopping the federal government shutdown that is set to begin Friday at midnight.

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