Senators Pass Stopgap Spending Bill to Dodge Shutdown

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky talks during a news conference in Washington on Tuesday. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Senate voted to avoid a government shutdown Friday, sending a bill to President Donald Trump’s desk that will fund the government until the end of next week.

The continuing resolution, which keeps funding at current levels, was debated at length in the chamber both Thursday and Friday with senators squabbling over additional provisions for coronavirus relief that ultimately didn’t pass.

Before the bill cleared the Senate by voice vote Friday, Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Missouri Republican Josh Hawley denounced their colleagues for not addressing economic hardships exacerbated through the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This Congress must address the economic emergency facing the American people,” Sanders said. “We cannot go back to our families, during the Christmas holidays, while tens of millions of families are suffering.”

Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, tried get the chamber to vote Thursday on the Prevent Government Shutdowns Act, which would automatically fund the government at its current level if lawmakers couldn’t reach a deal.

“Here we are, 71 days into the fiscal year, we haven’t passed an appropriation’s bill,” Johnson said. “We’re going to have to pass, within the next 24 hours or so, our 37th continuing resolution to kick the can another week so we can get our act together and pass some kind of massive omnibus that nobody’s going to be able to read before they actually vote for it.”

But Senator Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, objected and said that while he agreed with the frustration on both sides, automatic continuing resolutions are not the answer.

“We should, as a body, both parties, every member of the Senate, should have had the priority number one to do this before October the 1st, each year as we used to do,” Shelby said. “I don’t believe [the bill] will increase the probability that we get our work done, shutdown or not. I think the key is to work together.”

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who is the vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, noted Thursday the bills could have been brought up in June, after the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed its funding plans.  

He also opposed the automatic funding bill, saying it would leave no incentive for lawmakers to reach agreements on full-year deals and give them the ability to disassociate from the needs of Americans.

“We’re not elected to put the government on autopilot, we’re elected to make careful choices,” Leahy said. “I would argue the reason we’re here is that people were afraid to actually stand up and vote up or down on appropriations bills earlier this year when they had the chance.”

Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, said Johnson’s bill was imperfect and wouldn’t solve all of the federal government’s budget negotiation woes. But without it, he said, lawmakers would be stuck in the same position they’re in now – passing a continuing resolution a little over 70 days into the fiscal year.

“What we’re asking for is for a seat at the table,” Lee said of senators who want to change the budgetary process.

Lee also frustrated attempts Thursday from Senators Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, to introduce legislation that would create and fund Smithsonian museums for Latin Americans and women. Lee said the museums would “indulge the cultural and identity vulcanization of our national community.”

“The so-called critical theory undergirding this movement does not celebrate diversity, it weaponizes diversity,” he said.

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