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US shutdown averted at last minute

China Daily | Updated: 2021-10-02 07:33
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A view of the US Capitol  in Washington, DC on Sept 30, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Biden seal on stopgap move staves off partial closure, but more hurdles await

With only hours to spare, US President Joe Biden signed legislation to avoid a partial federal shutdown and keep the government funded through Dec 3. Congress had passed the bill earlier on Thursday local time.

The back-to-back votes by the Senate and the House of Representatives averted one crisis, but delays on another continue as the two main political parties dig in on a dispute over how to raise the government's borrowing cap before the United States risks a potentially catastrophic default.

The House approved the short-term funding measure by a 254-175 vote not long after the Senate passage in a 65-35 vote. A large majority of Republicans in both chambers voted against it. The legislation was needed to keep the government running once the current budget year ended at midnight on Thursday. Passage will buy lawmakers more time to craft the spending measures that will fund federal agencies and the programs they administer.

"There's so much more to do," Biden said in a statement after the signing. "But the passage of this bill reminds us that bipartisan work is possible and it gives us time to pass longer-term funding to keep our government running and delivering for the American people."

The work to keep the government open and running served as the backdrop during a chaotic day for Democrats as they struggled to get Biden's top domestic priorities over the finish line, including a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill at risk of stalling in the House.

"It is a glimmer of hope as we go through many, many other activities," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

With their energy focused on Biden's agenda, Democrats backed down from a showdown over the debt limit in the government funding bill, deciding to uncouple the borrowing ceiling at the insistence of Republicans. If that cap is not raised by Oct 18, the US probably will face a financial crisis and economic recession, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said.

A possible debt default of the US government, if its debt ceiling remains unchanged, will lead to a series of consequences and a global crisis finally, a news analysis carried by CNN warned on Wednesday.

"The United States is heading for a cliff-and taking the world with it," the article said.

Once the government is funded, albeit temporarily, Democrats will turn their full attention to the need to raise the limit on federal borrowing, which now stands at $28.4 trillion.

The US has never defaulted on its debts in the modern era and, historically, both parties have voted to raise the limit. Democrats joined the Republican Senate majority in doing so three times during Donald Trump's presidency. This time Democrats wanted to take care of both priorities in one bill, but Senate Republicans blocked that effort on Monday.

Divided Democrats

Meanwhile, Democratic US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi withdrew a promised vote on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill late on Thursday after failing to win enough support from her own lawmakers, in a stark illustration of the deep internal divisions threatening Biden's agenda.

The congresswoman had promised to put up the legislation in the lower chamber after it advanced from the Senate with cross-party support, with moderates keen to notch an easy victory for Biden on what would be one of the largest spending packages in history.

But progressives insisted they would sink the proposals after getting no clear sign from the centrist faction that they would commit to an even broader $3.5 trillion social-spending package Biden is touting as the cornerstone of his plan to transform the US economy.

The threat left Pelosi with a dilemma: Bring the infrastructure bill to the floor, where it has very little Republican support and would likely be sunk by Democratic liberals, or risk the ire of moderates by announcing a delay.

Pelosi didn't comment immediately, but the White House vowed to bring the warring groups back to the table on Biden's two-pronged strategy first thing on Friday.

"A great deal of progress has been made this week, and we are closer to an agreement than ever," Biden's press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

"But we are not there yet, and so, we will need some additional time to finish the work, starting tomorrow morning first thing."

Agencies, Heng Weili in New York and Xinhua contributed to this story.

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