Shutdown may yet be averted but battle looms

Last-gasp vote on temporary spending aims to keep US govt operating until Dec 11

WASHINGTON • After a brief trading of angry recriminations, Senate Republicans and Democrats voted on Monday to advance a temporary spending measure that would avert a shutdown of the federal government tonight - but also signalled a battle in the weeks ahead.

The measure, which still requires final approval by the Senate and by the House - where some rank-and-file Republicans had pledged to block it - would keep agencies operating roughly at last year's spending levels until Dec 11.

The ballot was 77-19, with 60 votes needed to proceed, and 31 Republicans joined 44 Democrats and two independents to vote in favour.

The Bill does not include language cutting off federal financing for Planned Parenthood, a step many Republicans had demanded while they investigate allegations surrounding the organisation's role in providing aborted foetuses for use in medical research.

NOT FIRST, SECOND, THIRD CHOICE...

It doesn't represent my first, second, third, or 23rd choice when it comes to funding the government, but it will keep the government open through the fall.

REPUBLICAN MITCH MCCONNELL, the Senate majority leader

It remains uncertain how House Republicans will handle the spending measure, particularly after the unexpected resignation last Friday of Speaker John Boehner.

Some congressional aides said they expected Mr Boehner would be able to push the Bill through with support from Democrats, now that he does not have to worry about political reprisal from the hardline conservatives in his own party, the same lawmakers who forced a government shutdown in 2013 over the Affordable Care Act.

The Bill must be adopted before the fiscal year ends at 11.59pm today or many federal agencies will be forced to shut down tomorrow.

Even in the Senate, Republicans expressed grave displeasure at having to adopt the legislation without the Planned Parenthood language. And the Senate majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, sharply criticised Democrats for blocking the regular spending Bills and forcing a showdown.

Mr McConnell said Senate Democrats had stopped all 12 regular appropriations Bills "in the hopes of provoking a crisis Democrats might exploit to grow the IRS and the (Washington) DC bureaucracy".

The majority leader expressed particular outrage that Democrats had blocked the military spending measure that would pay for troops serving overseas.

"This leaves the funding legislation before us as the only viable way forward in the short term," Mr McConnell said. "It doesn't represent my first, second, third, or 23rd choice when it comes to funding the government, but it will keep the government open through the fall."

The Democratic Senate leader, Mr Harry Reid, said it was the Republicans who were to blame for trying to force a government shutdown, and he noted the Dec 11 deadline would make for a tense political fight over the next few months.

"Though it appears we'll sidestep a Republican-manufactured crisis this week, the disaster is looming ahead," Mr Reid said.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2015, with the headline 'Shutdown may yet be averted but battle looms'. Print Edition | Subscribe