US Congress makes last-minute bid to avert government shutdown

US Congress makes last-minute bid to avert government shutdown
US Congress makes last-minute bid to avert government shutdown

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - The Republican-controlled House of Representatives will hold an afternoon vote on a short-term stopgap measure that would extend by one week federal funding that expires at midnight on Friday (1pm in Malaysian time) and set a March 22 funding deadline for other government agencies. — AFP pic

WASHINGTON, Feb 29 — A divided and chaotic US Congress will make a last-minute attempt to avert a partial government shutdown today, less than 48 hours before funding for some federal agencies is due to expire.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives will hold an afternoon vote on a short-term stopgap measure that would extend by one week federal funding that expires at midnight on Friday (1pm in Malaysian time) and set a March 22 funding deadline for other government agencies.

Approval would send the measure on to the Democratic-led Senate, where the stopgap, known as a continuing resolution, or “CR,” would need to be adopted before President Joe Biden could sign it into law.

But the effort to get the measure through the House and Senate in time could face hurdles, especially in the Senate, where some hardline Republicans are expected to demand amendment votes in exchange for their consent to fast-track the bill.

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The stopgap, the fourth needed to keep federal agencies open in the fiscal year that began October 1, is intended to give the House and Senate time to pass 12 appropriations bills to fund the government through September 30.

About two months have passed since Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed on a US$1.59 trillion (RM7.55 trillion) discretionary spending level for the fiscal year. House and Senate leaders on Wednesday reached agreement on a slate of full-year appropriations bills to fill in the details.

Representative Tom Cole, a senior Republican appropriator, expected the stopgap to pass the House without difficulty.

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“Congress has already voted not to shut down,” Cole told Reuters. “People want to keep working.”

But the CR already faces hardline opposition in the House and could need a majority of House Democratic votes for passage.

That could mean problems for Johnson, who has been pressured by hardline Republicans to use a shutdown as a bargaining chip to force Democrats to accept conservative policy riders.

Johnson, who has wielded the speaker’s gavel only since late October, is once again relying on a procedural move that will require substantial Democratic support to pass the CR, a tactic that could anger hardline conservatives.

“We’re doing what the Democrats want to do, so that it’ll pass the Senate and be signed by the White House. And that’s not a win for the American people,” said Representative Bob Good, chairman of the hardline House Freedom Caucus.

Another hardliner, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, noted on the social platform X that Thursday’s vote would mark the third CR under Johnson.

“It’s back to being the House of Hypocrites. What comes next?” the Georgia Republican said.

House passage would give the Senate less than two days to enact the measure and require Schumer, the top Democrat in Congress, to win an agreement from Senate Republicans to circumvent a web of parliamentary rules and procedural hurdles that could take a week to navigate.

Senator Rand Paul, a Republican maverick with a track record for delaying must-pass legislation before, said he and other hardliners could consent to such a deal if allowed to offer amendments to reduce spending and the federal debt.

“We won’t just say we’re going to roll over and let them continue to ruin the country,” Paul told Reuters.

Major ratings agencies say the repeated brinkmanship is taking a toll on the creditworthiness of a nation whose debt has surpassed US$34 trillion. — Reuters

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