Senate Averts Midnight Shutdown, but Not Without Drama

Senate Averts Midnight Shutdown, but Not Without Drama

Senate Majority Leader Schumer
Sipa USA
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Friday, March 8, 2024

Happy Friday! Democrats are breathing a bit easier today after President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech last night, which has been variously described as energetic, forceful, spirited, feisty — or angry, loud and overly political, according to Republicans. But while the presidential campaign is now is full swing, Congress still has some business to attend to. Most immediately, the Senate just passed a government funding package to avert a midnight shutdown.

Here's the latest.

Senate Averts Midnight Shutdown, but Not Without Drama

With a midnight deadline looming, the Senate voted tonight to avert a government shutdown by passing the $459 billion, six-bill spending package approved by the House earlier this week.

The drive to quickly pass the package hit a speed bump earlier in the day as several conservative Republican senators reportedly demanded amendment votes before they would agree to expedite a final vote on the legislation. Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced a deal Friday evening to allow votes on four Republican amendments before moving to final passage.

“After months of hard work, we have good news for the country: Tonight the Senate has reached an agreement avoiding a shutdown on the first six funding bills,” Schumer said. “We will keep important programs funded for moms and kids, for veterans, for the environment, for housing, and so much more. Because both sides cooperated today, we’ve taken a major step toward our goal of fully funding the government.”

Schumer said the deal gives the Senate “momentum and space” to also finish the remaining six appropriations bills by the next deadline on March 22.

Up until the deal was reached, though, the timing of a vote on the first batch of spending bills — and whether Congress might stumble into a brief shutdown — remained unclear as Republicans blocked quick action.

“Throughout Friday afternoon, a parade of far-right lawmakers took to the Senate floor to protest the legislation, which they said did not do enough to cut federal spending and lacked policy wins that conservatives on both sides of the Capitol demanded,” The Washington Post’s Jacob Bogage reports. “Some Republicans wanted the bills to include harsh new restrictions on immigration and to beef up U.S.-Mexico border security. Another wanted an amendment to exclude undocumented immigrants from the apportionment of electoral votes and members of the House. Yet another sought to eliminate earmarks from the funding bill.”

The bottom line: The Senate’s approval of the “minibus” spending package sends it to the president, who can sign it and officially avert a shutdown. Lawmakers will then have two weeks to pass the final six spending bills.

Opponents of Spending Package Stand to Get Nearly $1 Billion in Earmarks: Report

The spending package being voted on in the Senate after passing the House earlier this week includes 605 pages worth of earmarks, also known as congressionally directed spending or community project funding — funds requested by members of Congress for specific programs or projects, such as sewer system improvements, bridge reconstruction or providing equipment for local police departments.

The 6,628 individual earmarks total $12.7 billion, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Government. And as Bloomberg’s Jack Fitzpatrick reports, 40 Republicans and two Democrats who opposed the bill nevertheless are set to bring home nearly $1 billion in earmarks, or $946.5 million to be specific. That total “includes money sought by frequent opponents of appropriations, such as $50 million for Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), $20 million for Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), and $9.3 million for Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.),” Fitzpatrick reported this week.

The package also includes hundreds of millions of dollars requested by lawmakers who are no longer in Congress, including 112 earmarks totaling $235 million attached to the name of former Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who died in September. (Sixty-nine of those earmarks totaling $102.2 million were offered jointly with fellow California Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla, Fitzpatrick notes.)

House Republicans stand to deliver nearly $3.4 billion to their districts, led by Tennessee’s Republican Rep. Chuck Fleischmann with $270.4 million. House Democrats could bring home $2.5 billion. On the Senate side, Democrats have $2.4 billion in earmarks, while Republicans have $2.1 billion. But keep in mind: The next six-bill spending package, which lawmakers hope to pass before a March 22 deadline, will include more earmarks.


Job Growth Stays Strong, but Unemployment Rate Creeps Higher

Employers added 275,000 jobs in February, handily beating expectations as the labor market notched its 38th consecutive month of growth, the government reported Friday.

Previous months’ estimates were revised lower, though, with the tally for December and January cut by 167,000. Even so, the number of jobs in the U.S. economy has increased by more than 200,000 over each of the last three months, indicating that growth remains healthy, even if not quite as robust as previously thought.

At the same time, the unemployment rate crept higher last month, rising two-tenths of a percentage point to 3.9%. The increase was driven by a mix of job losses and the entry of more people into the labor market. An alternative measure of unemployment, known as U-6, which includes some part-time workers, also increased, rising a tenth of a point to 7.3%.

What the experts are saying: “We’re seeing that the job market is getting cooler,” economist Guy Berger of the Burning Glass Institute, a labor market research group, told NBC News. “It’s still not a bad one, but it’s looking more like what we saw in the mid-2010s — which was not a terrible job market but still a worse one than what we saw later that decade or what we had in the post-pandemic period.”

Former Obama administration economist Jason Furman said it was a “soft landing jobs report,” referring to the much-hoped-for outcome of inflation falling without a recession. “Tilts the balance of worry ever so slightly away from inflation and towards recession. But overall things still looking good.”

Stephen Stanley, U.S. economist at Santander Bank, told the Financial Times that he weighted the bad news of downward revisions and a rising unemployment rate more heavily than the strong growth number in February. “Still,” he added, “the overall picture in my view is that the labor market is still healthy.”

RSM chief economist Joseph Brusuelas highlighted one key detail: the level of prime-age employment, which matched a two-decade high. “One reason behind the booming economy is the fact that 83.5% of prime aged workers 25-54 are on the job,” he wrote. “Jobs are plentiful and avg hourly earnings are up 4.3% y/y. This is what full employment looks like if one cares to look.”

Fun Fact Friday: Biden’s Big Speech Garners a Big Audience

President Biden’s State of the Union speech last night drew nearly 28 million viewers across nine television networks, according to preliminary Nielsen ratings numbers, and that total reportedly is likely to grow once smaller outlets are included in the tally. The viewership was up from last year, when about 27.3 million watched Biden’s address to Congress across 16 networks.

Fox News drew 5.64 million viewers, according to Nielsen numbers reported by Deadline, followed by ABC News with 5.02 million, NBC News with 4.33 million, MSNBC with 4.2 million, CBS News with 3.94 million, CNN with 2.51 million, Fox with 1.71 million, Fox Business with 240,000 and CNBC with 112,000.

“The 66-minute-long appearance is likely to end up as the second-most-watched of Mr. Biden’s speeches to Congress,” Michael M. Grynbaum reports at The New York Times. “His first, in 2021, attracted 26.9 million viewers, and about 38.2 million watched in 2022, days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

The viewership totals for last night do not account for people who tuned in via streaming services or online news and social media sites. Also not included: expelled former Republican Rep. George Santos, who didn’t need to watch on TV because he was in the hall. Former members of Congress have lifetime floor privileges — even those who have been expelled.

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