President Biden on Friday signed a stopgap bill to fund the government through February 18, averting a government shutdown and pushing congressional budget fights into next year.
The short-term funding bill, known as a continuing resolution, cleared the House in a largely party-line vote on Thursday afternoon. “Only one Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), voted Thursday to keep the government open even though the stopgap funding resolution kept in place the funding levels enacted under President Donald Trump,” The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis pointed out.
The bill passed the Senate hours later, after some conservatives — most notably Roger Marshall of Kansas, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah — had threatened to delay the legislation and allow a short shutdown over objections to Biden’s vaccine and testing mandate for large private employers. That mandate is currently held up in court. “I don’t want to shut down the government,” Lee said. “The only thing I want to shut down is Congress funding enforcement of an immoral, unconstitutional vaccine mandate.”
The Senate standoff was resolved when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) agreed to conservatives’ demands to allow a simple majority vote on an amendment defunding Biden’s vaccine mandate. That vote failed, 48-50, clearing the path for the Senate to pass the continuing resolution by a 69-28 margin.
What the stopgap bill does: The legislation will keep the lights on at federal departments and agencies for another 11 weeks and provides an additional $7 billion to help Afghan refugees. It also authorizes $1.6 billion to fund care for unaccompanied child migrants. “The bill, however, doesn’t address an array of unresolved policy issues and program funding that lawmakers had hoped to tackle before the end of the year, including impending cuts to Medicare and farm subsidies,” The Washington Post’s Mariana Alfaro and Tyler Pager noted.
What’s next: “Funding the government isn’t a great achievement. It’s a bare minimum of what we need to get done,” Biden told reporters Friday morning. The president thanked lawmakers for passing the bill in bipartisan fashion and urged them to use the time the legislation provides to finish the long-stalled funding for the full fiscal year, which started in October.
Republicans and Democrats have made little progress on setting full-year funding levels, as GOP lawmakers see little incentive to approve money to further Biden’s agenda. A full-year continuing resolution, on the other hand, would extend federal funding at levels set under former President Trump. “Both parties say the skirmish over the short-term funding fix was far simpler than the brutal fight they predict over Congress’ full-year spending,” Politico reports. If the two sides can’t complete the contentious annual appropriations bills, they would need to pass another short-term funding patch to avoid a shutdown.
Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement that it was time to “get serious” about completing the annual funding bills. “I have said many times that work can only begin if we agree to start FY22 where we finished FY21,” he said. “That means maintaining legacy riders, eliminating poison pills, and getting serious about the funding we are going to provide for our nation’s defense. If that doesn’t happen, we’ll be having this same conversation in February.”
Why it matters: “For many lawmakers, the entire saga only served to highlight the extent of the political acrimony on Capitol Hill, where even the most basic responsibilities of governance quickly devolve into partisan showdowns,” the Post’s Tony Romm and Mike DeBonis write. “And it underscored the extent to which conservatives in Congress see the president’s stance on vaccines as a vector to mount prominent political attacks, a campaign that Republicans have pledged to continue in the days ahead.”
The flirtation with shutdowns may continue as well. The latest gambit by conservatives “showed just how single-minded Republicans are about appealing to their base right now — and portends even more hazardous shutdown fights in the near future,” writes the Post’s Aaron Blake. “The continued use of such tactics in the absence of success or even political gain also suggests we’ll only see more of this.”
The bottom line: The budget and appropriations battles will continue into February, and perhaps beyond. In the meantime, though, Congress also has to prevent a debt default and approve an annual defense bill while Democrats also look to pass their $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act.