American Dance and Culture – The Fulcrum
Partisan disputes in Congress prevented lawmakers from finding a solution sooner. Leaders of both parties said they wanted to avoid a government shutdown, but disagreed on how to do it. Democrats attempted to pass a measure earlier this week that both funded the government and suspended the debt ceiling, but Senate Republicans blocked the effort.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said if Democrats want to raise the debt ceiling, they will have to do it themselves. By forcing the issue to a party line vote, Republicans hope to use the higher debt ceiling as evidence of out-of-control Democratic spending in the midterm election – even though a significant portion of the accumulated debt comes from spending and approved tax breaks. by the GOP during the Trump administration.
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Thursday’s vote on an interim spending bill will provide interim funding to the government and keep essential services in operation during the Covid-19 pandemic. Before spending expires on December 3, lawmakers will either need to approve another short-term solution, known as a continuing resolution, or approve appropriations to fund the government until the end of 2022.
Close calls like this and actual government shutdowns have become more and more common over the years. Over the past decade, there have been three government shutdowns, including a 34-day shutdown in 2019, the longest in American history. Since the introduction of the current budget process in the 1970s, there have been 20 funding gaps, four of which resulted in shutdowns lasting longer than one working day.
The last time Congress approved federal funds before fiscal year-end, without the need to pursue resolutions, was 1997, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Because Congress is so polarized, it is difficult for legislation to garner the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Senate obstruction. This hurdle is especially difficult “when you’re talking about things in the budget process where Congress first has to agree on big numbers for how much it wants to spend in all areas and then it has to actually move on. to the work of sharing the cake, ”said Molly Reynolds, senior researcher in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
Appropriation measures are also becoming popular targets for other unrelated issues due to their “must pass” status, which can accelerate the drama. These combined challenges are why Congress so often flirts with closings, Reynolds said.
To make the federal budget process more functional, Reynolds said, Congress should craft the appropriation bills individually in their respective subcommittees and present them in “minibuses” or smaller packages rather than omnibus packages that bring them all together. supply bills.
“In 2018, we had both the start of a record-breaking government shutdown and also, earlier in 2018, we had the most productive Congressional appropriation year in several decades. Part of what has made that possible was this minibus strategy, ”said Reynolds.
The minibus strategy allowed some of the appropriation bills to pass that year, keeping a significant portion of the government funded, even as other portions shut down.
“We don’t live in the political world we lived in when Congress drafted the 1974 Congressional Budget Act,” Reynolds said, adding that lawmakers should try to figure out “what things are about the process of 1974 that we think is useful and can keep, and then how to adapt other parts of the process to recognize the [current] political realities. “
While Congress has bypassed another government shutdown for the time being, the debt ceiling deadline is still looming. If the debt limit is not raised or suspended by Oct. 18, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the United States will not be able to pay its bills and the country could default for the whole time. first time. Because so many countries depend on the US economy, such an outcome would have dire and unpredictable repercussions around the world.
Democrats could raise the debt ceiling on their own through a process called reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority to pass the Senate, rather than the usual 60 needed to overcome an obstruction. However, majority leader Chuck Schumer refused to resort to reconciliation, calling it “risky” and “uncharted waters”.
The reconciliation process can only be used once per fiscal year, and Democrats are already planning to use it to pass their $ 3.5 trillion domestic policy package. However, the fate of this legislation and the $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill remains uncertain as the Democratic Party is divided over how much money to spend on which programs.
And amid the drama over the federal budget and the infrastructure package, two landmark electoral reform bills have taken a back seat, despite urgent calls for passage from voting rights advocates. The free vote law was introduced earlier this month as a compromise version of the law for the people. The Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis’ Advancement of Voting Rights Act face long chances in the Senate if the obstruction remains intact.