In shadow of court fight, U.S. Congress seeks to avoid budget breakdown
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress this week will try to pass legislation funding the federal government through mid-December, avoiding the spectacle of a government shutdown amid a pandemic and just weeks before the Nov. 3 elections.
Prior to the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which has set off an intense partisan 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 programs operating at current levels through Dec. 11.
The new federal fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.
The bill is designed to give lawmakers more time to work out federal spending through September 2021, including budgets for military operations, healthcare, national parks, space programs and airport and border security.
As the United States struggles with the coronavirus pandemic, a faltering economy, social unrest, fires consuming large swaths of the West and hurricanes in the East, any government closures 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 President Donald 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 U.S.-Mexico border, despite his 2016 campaign pledge that Mexico would finance the construction – something Mexico City never was inclined to do.
The United States endured a record-long partial government shutdown from Dec. 22, 2018 to Jan. 25, 2019 after Congress refused Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in wall funding.
That stand-off, which resulted in 800,000 federal workers not receiving paychecks, 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.
(This story has been refiled to fix spelling error in paragraph 1).
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