U.S. House passes budget to avoid partial government shutdown

The House passed a catchall budget package Tuesday that is intended to avoid a partial government shutdown and debt limit crisis, but it seems likely to come back for a do-over once the Senate works its will.

The stopgap funding bill, which passed on a 220-211 party-line vote, would extend federal agency budget authority through Dec. 3 and provide nearly $35 billion in aid to disaster victims and relocation assistance Afghan refugees who helped the U.S. government during two decades of war.

The package advanced after a few hours of drama earlier in the day over an initial decision to grant Israel’s $1 billion request for missile defense funds. Progressive Democrats opposed to Israel’s military response to rocket attacks launched by Palestinian groups from the Gaza Strip in May forced party leaders to strip the money.

GOP lawmakers backed the Israeli defense funds, as well as much of the underlying package that remained intact. But they rebuked Democrats for adding language that would suspend the statutory debt limit through Dec. 16, 2022, or beyond the midterm elections.

“This one decision could force us into an unnecessary and costly government shutdown, and other critical programs in this bill could be left behind,” House Appropriations Committee ranking member Kay Granger, R-Texas, told the Rules Committee on Tuesday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has argued for months that despite years of bipartisan negotiations on the debt limit, Democrats should go at it alone this year since they are using the partisan budget reconciliation process to enact their fiscal priorities without GOP input.

Republican leaders used the same fast-track process to get around the Senate’s 60-vote legislative filibuster for their 2017 tax bill and unsuccessfully tried to use it to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law when they were in the majority.

Moody’s Analytics on Tuesday warned Congress against exacerbating uncertainty on a debt limit suspension, saying that if a bill isn’t enacted before the Treasury Department runs out of cash and borrowing room “the resulting chaos in global financial markets will be difficult to bear.”

“The U.S. and global economies, which still have a long way to go to recover from the recession caused by the pandemic, will descend back into recession,” Moody’s Chief Economist Mark Zandi and Assistant Director Bernard Yaros wrote.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer acknowledged earlier in the day that the Senate could make changes and send the package back to the House. The procedural hurdles along the way could put final passage pretty close to the deadline; without a presidential signature on the continuing resolution, starting Oct. 1 the federal government would begin a partial shutdown. Dozens of agencies would have to furlough workers and require others to work without pay.

House passage Tuesday was initially delayed after internal Democratic debate about whether the package should have included $1 billion in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. “A group of progressives communicated to leadership that they wouldn’t be able to support the CR if the $1 billion in additional funding for the Iron Dome wasn’t taken out,” said a House Democratic aide who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., released a revised stopgap bill with the Iron Dome funding dropped, plus a few other technical changes.

DeLauro didn’t address progressives’ concerns in her testimony before the House Rules Committee, but said Iron Dome production is currently “at full capacity” and that the money would ultimately be included in a final fiscal 2022 Defense appropriations bill.