US Congress takes steps to avoid shutdown at election time
Negotiators draft a bill that will keep federal programmes operating until after the poll
Washington — The US Congress this week will try to pass legislation funding the federal government until mid-December, avoiding the spectacle of a government shutdown amid a pandemic before the November 3 elections.
Before the death of Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which has set off an intense battle over President Donald Trump’s plan to replace her, negotiators behind the scenes last week cobbled together a bill that would keep most federal programmes operating at present levels until midnight December 11.
The new federal fiscal year starts on October 1.
The bill is designed to give legislators more time to work out federal spending until end-September 2021, including budgets for military operations, health care, national parks, space programmes and airport and border security.
As the US struggles with the coronavirus pandemic, a faltering economy, social unrest, fires consuming large swathes of the west and hurricanes in the east, any government closure for lack of funds would add to the chaos.
“I don’t think anybody wants to be responsible for shutting down government on the eve of an election in the middle of a pandemic. So it’s a rare outbreak of common sense on both sides,” Republican representative Tom Cole told reporters on Thursday.
The House of Representatives is set to debate and vote on the bill as early as Tuesday with Senate passage possible by the end of the week. But the measure’s December end date will require Congress to return to the government funding question again during its post-election lame-duck session, either during or after what could be a bruising fight to confirm Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee.
Congressional Democrats have had a stormy relationship with the White House over federal funding since Trump took office early in 2017. He has sought deep cuts in domestic spending while ramping up military funds.
Their clashes often revolved around the Republican president’s demands for billions of dollars to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, despite his 2016 campaign pledge that Mexico would finance the construction — something Mexico City never was inclined to do.
The US endured a record-long partial government shutdown from December 22 2018 to January 25 2019 after Congress refused Trump’s demand for $5.7bn in wall funding.
That stand-off, which resulted in 800,000 federal workers not receiving pay cheques, ended only after a shortage of federal air traffic controllers in the New York and Philadelphia areas threatened to shut down flights in the busy east coast corridor.
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