Congress votes to avert budget shutdown as snowstorm looms

Washington DC - The Senate voted Thursday to keep federal agencies funded and avoid a costly partial government shutdown, advancing a stop-gap funding measure that is expected to clear the House within hours.

Congress is set to vote Thursday on temporary funding to thwart a partial government shutdown, as forecasts for a blizzard pile pressure on lawmakers already racing against the clock to keep the lights on.
Congress is set to vote Thursday on temporary funding to thwart a partial government shutdown, as forecasts for a blizzard pile pressure on lawmakers already racing against the clock to keep the lights on.  © Drew Angerer / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

With the cash for many departments due to dry up after 11:59 PM Friday in Washington, the Democratic-led upper chamber passed a bill that keeps the lights on until at least March 1.

If passed by the Republican-controlled House quickly, the resolution should get to President Joe Biden's desk before funding expires at the end of Friday.

The deadline for passing the legislation is even tighter in reality, as the House announced it would close Friday in response to a storm expected to pile snow on the already frozen East Coast overnight.

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"If both sides continue working in good faith, we can avoid a shutdown without last-minute drama or needless anxiety for so many Americans," Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor.

Under the agreement, agriculture, energy and water, military construction and veterans' programs, transport, and housing would be funded until March 1.

The military, Justice Department, border security, Congress, and many other federal agencies and departments would be able to function until March 8.

That will give lawmakers more time to set the full-year budget in line with spending limits that Democrats and Republicans agreed last year.

Negotiations have been held in limbo by the demands of the House Republicans for sweeping cuts and "poison pill" concessions on immigration that are dead on arrival in the more moderate Senate.

House conservatives expected to vote against urgent stop-gap measure

Activists hold signs during a news conference about the ongoing border negotiations outside of the US Capitol on Thursday.
Activists hold signs during a news conference about the ongoing border negotiations outside of the US Capitol on Thursday.  © Kent Nishimura/Getty Images/AFP Kent Nishimura / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

Despite the urgency, dozens of conservatives in the House are expected to vote against the stop-gap measure. However, Democrats will almost certainly provide Republican Speaker Mike Johnson enough backing to smooth its passage.

Relying on Democratic support to cancel out Republican no-votes is the practice that got Johnson's predecessor Kevin McCarthy axed in an October rebellion by his own party. Leading right-wingers have made clear that the new speaker risks the same outcome.

The inability of lawmakers to pass a full budget for a fiscal year that started almost four months ago has highlighted dysfunction in Congress, which is also deadlocked on foreign aid requested urgently by the White House.

Republicans are demanding tightened border security and strict immigration curbs before they will consider Biden's request for $106 billion in supplemental cash, mostly for Ukraine and Israel.  

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Party leaders in the Senate are strong supporters of Ukraine aid but many hard-liners in the House are skeptical that handing Kyiv more money to repel the two-year-old Russian invasion is in US interests.

Both sides agree that the record number of migrants crossing from Mexico is a crisis that needs to be addressed, although they disagree on the response.

Schumer, the leader of the Democratic Senate majority, aims to introduce a bipartisan border security and foreign aid bill next week – although Johnson has refused to commit to bringing the bill to the floor.

Having sounded the alarm for more than a year over the "humanitarian catastrophe" of the migrant surge, they will face accusations of bad faith from Democrats if they refuse to even consider the package.

Johnson told Fox News that he had been talking about the border "pretty frequently" with former president Donald Trump, who is running for reelection and is pressuring Republicans not to give Biden a win on immigration.

Cover photo: Drew Angerer / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

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