The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Senate passes temporary spending bill, averting shutdown as talks go on

Democrats and Republicans still hope to achieve a longer-term spending deal that will last into 2023

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) on Capitol Hill in November. (Elizabeth Frantz/For The Washington Post)
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The Senate late Thursday approved a measure to fund the government through Dec. 23, securing a one-week deadline extension that gives Democrats and Republicans one final opportunity to work out a longer-term spending deal.

The 71-19 vote — coming a day after the House adopted it — sends the stopgap to President Biden and staves off a federal government shutdown that otherwise would have occurred after midnight this Friday.

The measure, known as a continuing resolution, essentially preserves federal spending at its current rate. It paves the way for lawmakers to continue to work on a set of bills known as an omnibus, which would fund federal agencies through the 2023 fiscal year that concludes on Sept. 30.

The omnibus could allow for new increases in federal spending in a vast array of areas, from government programs targeting the economy to new money for the military and its veterans. Lawmakers also hope to couple the appropriations package with billions of dollars in emergency funding, delivering on the Biden administration’s request to help Ukraine and respond to recent natural disasters, including Hurricane Ian.

“No drama, no gridlock, no government shutdown this week,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the chamber floor as voting began, hours after he acknowledged there’s still “a lot of work to do” on a broader spending deal.

In an early, encouraging sign, congressional negotiators on Tuesday clinched an agreement on what they described as a “framework” for the omnibus legislation. Two days later, the parties came to terms on funding levels for broad categories of spending, according to a person familiar with the negotiations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the sensitive talks.

Otherwise, though, the architects of the still-forming package — Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), and Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) — have shared no other details as they labor to finalize a massive measure likely to be thousands of pages in length. The bill is also expected to include funding for many lawmakers’ pet projects, colloquially known as earmarks. And Democrats have pledged to include an election reform bill as part of the still-forming legislation.

Congress reaches early deal to fund government, races to avert shutdown

Even once they broker a deal, Democrats and Republicans still must work together to adopt it in the waning hours of the legislative year. The calendar is especially tricky in the narrowly divided, slow-to-act Senate, where any omnibus will need 10 GOP votes to prevent a filibuster.

Adding to the headaches, some Republicans in recent days have sought to slow down the process at the urging of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House minority leader now vying to become speaker. Party lawmakers have argued that Congress should not adopt a long-term funding package until next year, when the GOP is set to assume control of the chamber — and hopes to use the negotiations to force spending cuts.

Democrats, Republicans race to strike year-end tax and spending deal

“I don’t know why any Republican, let alone 10, would want to help them do that in those circumstances,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said at a news conference earlier this week.

On Thursday, Lee took to the Senate floor to blast the “corrupt process” at work in pursuit of an omnibus. Stressing that “no one wants a shutdown,” he put forward an amendment that would have sustained federal spending at existing levels into March — though lawmakers ultimately defeated it.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), for his part, has sought to put pressure on the delicate talks: While he has praised progress in omnibus negotiations, the GOP leader has said the chamber has until Dec. 22 — a day before funding actually runs out — to reach a deal. Otherwise, McConnell has stress that his party would only accept “a short-term” measure into early next year.

“That is the deadline, and those are the two options,” he said this week.