American flags fly near the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US. File photo: BLOOMBERG/AL DRAGO
American flags fly near the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US. File photo: BLOOMBERG/AL DRAGO

Washington  — Democrats in the US Congress were rushing to head off one of several crises they face this week, saying they would vote to head off a government shutdown before funding expires at midnight on Thursday.

The scramble follows a series of votes in which the Senate tried to both fund the government and head off a potentially catastrophic federal government default in October, though Republicans twice blocked the Democratic attempt to raise the nation’s $28.4-trillion debt ceiling.

The Senate could vote on Wednesday or Thursday on a resolution to fund federal operations through to early December, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.

“With so many critical issues to address, the last thing the American people need right now is a government shutdown. This will prevent one from happening,” Schumer said.

If the resolution passes the Senate, the House of Representatives could vote quickly to send the measure to President Joe Biden to sign into law before the start of the new fiscal year on Friday.

That would avert a partial government shutdown in the middle of a national health crisis. Biden’s Democrats, who narrowly control both chambers of Congress, campaigned on a platform of responsible government after Republican Donald Trump’s turbulent four years in office.

More risks lie ahead as progressive House Democrats are vowing to vote against a $1-trillion infrastructure bill set to come to the floor on Thursday, due to intraparty fights over a social spending bill that could cost as much as $3.5-trillion.

With Democrats deeply divided over his legislative agenda, Biden cancelled a Wednesday trip to Chicago so that he could lead negotiations with Congress, the White House said.

According to a source, a White House staffer was meeting on Wednesday at the Capitol with moderate Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who has expressed deep concern over the size of Biden’s plans and has the power to block them due to the Democrats’ razor-thin majority in the Senate.

Behind it all looms the threat of the federal government hitting its debt ceiling near October 18, an event that could cause a historic default with long-lasting economic fallout and implications for financial markets.

The House and Senate may vote on a separate bill that temporarily lifts the debt limit, though that too is the subject of a bitter partisan fight.

Senate Republicans refuse to vote for it, telling Democrats to act alone, while Schumer has demanded bipartisan co-operation on a measure to address debts racked up during both Democratic and Republican administrations.

That leaves Democrats scrambling.

“There’s a number of options, but you can take it to the bank Democrats will not let the government default even if Republicans will not vote for it,” Democratic senator Tim Kaine predicted.

Investment bank Goldman Sachs this month described the standoff as “the riskiest debt-limit deadline in a decade”.

Divisions

The larger bill that Biden must negotiate aims to expand social programmes and address climate change. Several senior Democrats have said that the “reconciliation” bill — so called because it is being drawn up under a budgetary procedure to avoid Senate rules requiring 60 votes out of 100 members for passage — will need to be scaled back to pass.

Moderate Democratic senator Joe Manchin said after meeting with Biden on Tuesday that the overall dollar amount of the bill was not even discussed, much less agreed on. He suggested in an NBC News interview he may have another meeting with Biden on Wednesday.

With Biden fully engaged with Sinema and Manchin, other Senate Democrats avoided criticising them but showed no sign of relenting on their own demands.

“We are just going to have to work with the two senators, try to hear their concerns and overcome them,” progressive senator Ed Markey said. “We’re going to work very hard to ensure that we have a robust climate programme that is in the reconciliation bill. We're not going to be satisfied unless we get it, as I said many times: no climate, no deal.”

Democrats’ disarray deepened when House speaker Nancy Pelosi stepped back from her promise to move the far-reaching legislation alongside the $1-trillion infrastructure investment bill that already has cleared the Senate on a bipartisan vote.

Progressive Democrats have threatened to vote against the smaller bill unless the larger one is nailed down first.

Reuters 

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