Republicans block government funding, refusing to lift debt ceiling

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WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans on Monday blocked a spending bill needed to avoid a government shutdown this week and a federal debt default next month, bringing the country closer to the brink of a budget crisis as they refused to allow Democrats to lift the limit on federal borrowing.

With a Thursday deadline looming for funding the government – and the country is approaching a catastrophic debt limit breach – the deadlock in the Senate reflected an attempt by Republicans to undermine President Biden and the leading Democrats at a critical time as they strive to keep the government running and adopt an ambitious national agenda.

Republicans who voted to raise the debt ceiling by trillions when their party controlled Washington argued on Monday that Democrats must shoulder the full political burden to do so now, given that they control the White House and the United States. two chambers of Congress.

Their stance was calculated to portray Democrats as ineffective and excessive at a time when they are already striving to iron out deep party divisions over a $ 3.5 trillion social safety net and change bill. climate change, and to pave the way for a $ 1,000 billion bipartisan infrastructure measure whose fate is tied to it.

The package that was blocked on Monday, which also included emergency aid to support Afghan refugee resettlement and disaster recovery, would keep all government agencies funded until December 3 and raise the debt ceiling up to late 2022. But after clearing the House bill a week earlier with only Democratic votes, he was well short of the 60 votes needed to move forward in the Senate on Monday.

The vote was 48 to 50 to move the measure forward. Majority leader Senator Chuck Schumer of New York was among those who voted “no,” a procedural move to allow the bill to be reconsidered at some point. But there were no immediate details on the next steps.

The resulting cloud of budget uncertainty marked another challenge for Mr Biden and Democratic leaders, who face a daunting set of tasks as they push to maintain government funding, collectively garner the votes for the infrastructure bill – also slated for a vote on Thursday – and resolve their disputes over the broader budget plan. They must also develop a new strategy to raise the legal limit on federal borrowing, which officials say should be reached as early as mid-October.

“It may not be by the end of the week – I hope it will be by the end of the week,” Biden said Monday at the White House, referring to the prospects for achievement. of all the imperatives that Congress now faces. Checking the four pieces of legislation, he added: “We are doing it, the country is going to be in great shape.”

Without any of them, Mr. Biden’s agenda and his party’s fortunes would be in jeopardy, a prospect Republicans seemed to enjoy.

Although both parties have voluntarily racked up billions of dollars in debt in recent years, Senate Republicans on Monday presented their refusal to vote for raising the debt ceiling as a deserved reward for Democrats pushing back the opposition. of the GOP to beef up their domestic spending and multibillion-dollar taxes. plan to increase through Congress.

“We will not be providing Republican votes to raise the debt limit,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, repeating a warning he gave for months. He added: “The two-party system is not a light switch – a light switch that Democrats can turn on when they need to borrow money and turn off when they want to spend money. . “

The increase in the debt ceiling is needed to fund borrowing that has taken place in the past under administrations on both sides – not to pay for plans Mr Biden has yet to enact. And so far, there is little outreach or negotiation to resolve the impasse.

Still, Mr McConnell sought to present the vote as a test of Democrats’ competence, as he and other Republicans pledged to support an almost identical temporary spending program without raising the debt ceiling.

“We’ll see if the Democrats in Washington really want to rule,” McConnell said.

Democrats rejected this alternative, accusing Republicans of recklessly compromising the country’s full faith and credit. Mr Schumer said the vote meant “the Republican Party has now become the party by default, the party that says America doesn’t pay its debts.”

“It’s not your typical Washington crash,” he said, adding, “it’s one of the most reckless, one of the most irresponsible votes I’ve seen in the Senate. . “

Even though the spending measure was inadequate, Democratic leaders struggled to unite their caucus behind the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Moderate Democrats rallied for a vote this week on the legislation, while Liberal Democrats warned they would oppose it without prior action on the $ 3.5 trillion social and economic policy package.

“The bills are linked,” said Representative Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota and a progressive. “And they have to be linked for anything to get through the House.”

Amid looming deadlines, President Nancy Pelosi of California spoke with Mr Schumer and Mr Biden on Monday, according to a White House summary.

Ms Pelosi later met privately with Democrats to try to break the deadlock in Congress, signaling that the House would move forward with the $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill before the policy package. social security is fully negotiated.

“This is not about diminishing the importance of reconciliation,” Pelosi told members of her caucus, according to a person who disclosed the comments on condition of anonymity. She went on to say that lawmakers could not insist on waiting for the vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, as negotiations continued with the Senate over the reconciliation plan.

Yet, as of Monday night, it was still unclear how leaders in Congress would handle the urgent legislation to keep the government running. White House officials and Democratic congressional leaders have repeatedly warned about the economic toll of the postponement of a debt ceiling vote in recent weeks.

It may be America’s most serious debt crisis, with economists and analysts concerned that neither side will relax before the stock market collapses and the government is unable prioritize sending payments for social security, food aid or assistance to veterans and military spouses. . The most recent projection from the Bipartisan Policy Center, an independent think tank, estimates that the Treasury Department will run out of cash to meet all of its obligations between October 15 and November 4.

Democrats, who helped raise the borrowing limit when President Donald J. Trump was in power, had hoped to pressure at least 10 Republicans to drop the hard line by merging the provision on the ceiling of the debt with the money their states desperately need and the provisional government. financing bill. Now they have to regroup or face a shutdown by midnight Thursday, an outcome they have vowed to avoid.

Some Democrats have pointed to the breakup as further evidence for their argument that it is time to change Senate rules to deprive the minority party of a crucial tool to block legislative action.

“It’s playing with fire so that we risk the full confidence and credit of the United States in another damn filibuster,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Second Democrat. “As far as I am concerned, this is positive proof that obstruction does not breed bipartisanship, it creates desperate partisan divisions.

Legislation that did not progress Monday would have kept government funding beyond the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, giving lawmakers more time to negotiate the dozen annual spending bills and increased the limit to ‘loan until December 16, 2022. It also reportedly provided $ 6.3 billion to help Afghan refugees resettle in the United States and $ 28.6 billion to help communities rebuild after hurricanes, forest fires and other recent natural disasters.

“It was quite cynical of Senator Schumer to tie disaster relief aid to something he knew was not going to go through – capitalizing on their pain, leveraging their pain for something. something he can do quite easily, ”Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, told reporters.

Democrats decided earlier this year not to include an increase in the debt ceiling in their budget plan, which could have allowed them to include it in broad domestic policy legislation, which they are pushing through Congress. using a budget process known as reconciliation that protects it from obstruction. .

Attempting to do so at this point would be procedurally complex and time consuming, given the strict rules governing reconciliation. Democrats have been adamant they won’t.

Catie edmondson contributed reports.

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