Congress averted a Friday, December 3, government shutdown by passing a temporary funding measure Thursday evening—first in the House of Representatives and, a short while later, in the Senate. Passage of the measure, H.R. 6119, didn't come without drama, however, as a group of Senate Republicans threatened to hold up funding due to their opposition to President Biden's vaccine mandate. Ultimately the temporary funding measure was approved and sent to the White House where President Biden signed it into law.
The House approved the bill 221 to 212. The Senate, after fending off Republican objections to the vaccine mandate, passed the measure 69 to 28. The rules of the Senate required at least 60 yes votes for the bill to pass.
The new legislation, in the form of a continuing resolution (CR), will fund government operations at current levels through Feb. 18, 2022. At that point, an omnibus budget bill must be adopted or another continuing resolution passed in order to avoid a mid-winter government shutdown.
House and Senate leaders resolved the impasse that threatened to hold up the CR when agreement was reached to hold votes on both the funding measure and a GOP amendment that would prohibit the use of federal funding for COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The funding measure passed. The amendment did not.
- Congress reached a deal Thursday evening, Dec. 2, 2022, to fund the government and avoid a partial shutdown.
- The continuing resolution maintains funding at current levels through Feb. 18, 2022.
- Some GOP Senators threatened to hold up funding to force a simple majority vote on President Biden's vaccine and testing mandate.
- A vote was ultimately held and the amendment failed.
- Congress has until midnight Feb. 18, 2022, to resolve funding issues and pass an omnibus budget bill or another continuing resolution.
- Legislation to mandate automatic continuing resolutions to avoid government shutdowns has been introduced but so far has failed to reach a vote in Congress.
- Other issues Congress must contend with, as the end of the calendar year approaches, include the debt ceiling, the National Defense Authorization Act, and the Build Back Better Act.
End Government Shutdowns Legislation
The almost constant threat of government shutdowns has generated attempts by lawmakers to introduce legislation aimed at ending the political gamesmanship that seems to accompany nearly every approaching spending deadline.
Such was the case in September 2021, when last-minute action by Congress sent a bill to fund the government until Dec. 3 to President Biden's desk. In response, legislators in both parties sponsored bills aimed at ensuring that a future stalemate would not result in a government shutdown or a halt to federal paychecks or benefits. Here are some of the notable ones.
- Stop STUPIDITY (Shutdowns Transferring Unnecessary Pain and Inflicting Damage in the Coming Years) Act (S. 2892). Introduced by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., in September 2021, this bill would impose a mandatory continuing resolution (except for Congress and the White House) to ensure federal employees are not impacted and that the legislative and executive branches have an incentive to resolve their differences.
- End Government Shutdowns Act (S. 2760). sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, also in September 2021, would automatically approve spending at previous levels, similar to the Stop STUPIDITY Act, with the additional provision that, for every 120 days there is no deal, funding would be cut 1%.
- Prevent Government Shutdowns Act of 2021 (S.2727). Another September offering by Sen. Lankford, R-Okla., this bill also mandates a continuing resolution (in 14-day increments) but with some novel restrictions:Travel funding for the White House, Congress, and congressional staff would be shut off. Lawmakers would be required to stay in Washington (with attendance taken). Non-funding legislation could not be voted on for 30 days.
None of these bills has become law. In fact, the only action taken so far has been the introduction of the bills in the originating chamber of Congress. Now that the latest crisis has been averted there is little reason to believe legislators have much appetite for moving any of this legislation forward anytime in the near future.
Other Issues for Congress to Resolve
Avoiding another government shutdown for now, does not mean Congress is off the hook. Far from it. The original plan was for lawmakers to begin their holiday break around Dec. 10 this year. With the to-do list below before it, the Dec. 10 holiday-exit plan seems to fall somewhere between highly improbable and impossible.
According to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Treasury can make the country's debt payments through about Dec. 15, 2021. After that, the likelihood the U.S. will default depends on whether Congress raises or suspends the debt ceiling. Congress faces the Dec. 15 debt ceiling deadline due to its failure to address the issue fully in October. Instead, Congress lifted the debt ceiling by $480 billion, which is now expected to be reached by mid-December.
Since the debt ceiling, like the funding discussed above, is often used as a bargaining chip in an endless game of "chicken" between the two parties, some have suggested abolishing the debt ceiling altogether. As with efforts to mandate continuing resolutions for spending, these attempts have not gained sufficient traction in the halls of Congress.
National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)
The deadline to pass the National Defense Authorization Act is Dec. 31, 2021. The NDAA has been approved by Congress each of the past 60 years. There is no one in Washington who seriously thinks it won't pass this time.
The problem has been foot-dragging on both sides of the aisle. The House passed its version of the bill in September. Since then, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has delayed consideration in that chamber, followed by Republican senators who have also blocked the legislation. Currently the NDAA is stalled while Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., pushes to add an amendment designed to punish China over its alleged treatment of the Uyghurs.
Build Back Better Act (BBBA)
There's also the matter of the president's wide-ranging Build Back Better Act, which Democrats are keen to pass in the Senate before Christmas since the bill already passed the House in November. The legislation dedicates $2.3 trillion to social infrastructure and climate, and is a signature part of the Biden agenda.
Although Democrats already anticipate passing it in the Senate through a process called reconciliation, which would require a simple majority instead of the normal 60-vote threshold, passage is not guaranteed due to wavering support from some moderate Democrats.