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Senate Republicans Block Government Funding Bill In A Battle Over The Debt Limit

27September 2021

Senate Democrats were unable to advance a bill that funds the government. Now Democratic leaders will need to figure another way forward to avoid a government shutdown. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The government is on the brink of a partial shutdown after Senate Republicans blocked debate on a bill that would have simultaneously funded the government and suspended the nation’s borrowing limit.

The bill, which needed 60 votes to proceed, failed 48-50, as Republicans followed through on a threat to block the spending measure over objections to an unrelated spending bill currently being negotiated by Democrats. The legislation would have extended current spending levels through Dec. 3 and suspended the cap on federal debt through the end of 2022.

“After today there will be no doubt — no doubt — about which party in this chamber is working to solve the problems that face our country, and which party is accelerating us to an unnecessary, avoidable disaster,” said Schumer on the chamber floor Monday afternoon. With this vote, he said Republicans are on the record “deliberately sabotaging our country’s ability to pay the bills and likely causing the first ever default in American history.”

Senate Republicans have said since at least July that they fully support the federal spending extension but not the debt limit measure. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has ignored Democrats’ argument that Republicans helped drive up current debt levels when they authorized tax cuts under former President Trump and by supporting bipartisan COVID-19 relief spending.

“As we speak Democrats are behind closed doors assembling a multi-trillion dollar reckless taxing and spending spree,” McConnell said Monday afternoon. “There’s no chance Republicans will help lift Democrats’ credit limit so they can immediately steamroll through a socialist a socialist binge that will hurt families and help China.”

Democrats must now decide if they are willing to remove the debt limit provision in order to prevent a government shutdown. Current funding runs out at the end of the day on Thursday and lawmakers are also eager to other elements of the bill, like money for communities hit by natural disasters and $6.3 billion in aid for Afghan refugees.

The debt limit has become a perennial proxy fight in Congress as lawmakers from both sides have tried to use the must-pass vote to get leverage on unrelated political goals. While there have been instances where both sides readily agreed to adjust the borrowing, this is not the first risky standoff over borrowing.

Congress needs to raise the debt cap in order for the federal government to keep making payments on debt that has resulted from earlier spending or risk a federal default. Experts at the Bipartisan Policy Institute think tank estimate that the current borrowing authority will run out sometime between Oct. 15 and Nov. 4, but the exact date is imprecise.

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