Republicans set to block bill to avert shutdown, lift debt ceiling

Senate Republicans are poised to sink Democrats’ plans to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling on Monday evening, sending congressional leaders scrambling to avoid a government shutdown that would kick in Friday morning.

The GOP is set to reject a proposal to fund the government into December and lift the debt ceiling past next year’s midterms, a vote that needs the support of 10 Republicans to advance over a GOP filibuster. But only a handful of GOP senators are even considering it, presaging its immediate doom.

That leaves Senate Democrats with the job to quickly conjure up a short-term spending bill that can win bipartisan support, or otherwise face an imminent shutdown right as they try and iron out complicated intraparty divisions over President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda. A shutdown is the last thing Democrats’ thin majorities need, even if Republicans’ opposition to lifting the debt ceiling is the primary reason for the prospect of both a funding lapse and a potential default in the coming weeks.

“There’s no reason for one. I don’t think anybody around here sees that as a benefit,” said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine). “There’s no earthly reason we can’t get this done.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s staff told House Democratic chiefs of staff on Monday they are confident they will be able to keep the government funded this week, according to Democratic sources. But first, Democrats want to try and make clear that Republicans would be solely responsible for a debt debacle and a government shutdown.

“After today there will be no doubt about which party is working to solve the problems that face our country and which party is accelerating us toward unnecessary, avoidable disaster,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Republicans will solidify themselves for a long time as the party of default.”

Democrats have several options to move forward to avoid a shutdown. They can pass a short-term two- or three-week stopgap spending bill and try and line up the projecting late October date for potential default. Republicans say this option will not move them.

Or, they can simply remove the debt limit provision and put forward legislation to fund the government for two months, which is the easiest path forward. That would also probably require Democrats to begin laying the groundwork to raise the debt ceiling on their own.

The ill-fated Monday vote on a spending proposal also includes funding for disaster relief in hurricane stricken states like Louisiana and assistance for Afghan refugees. House Democrats dropped $1 billion for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system from their bill earlier this month, but a contingent of Senate Democrats want to add it back. Some House leadership aides hope Schumer keeps out Iron Dome missile defense funding to keep progressives happy.

The doomed vote comes as Senate Republicans have signaled for months that they will oppose suspending the debt ceiling, arguing that Democrats have the means to do so on their own if they want to pass their $3.5 trillion social spending plan. Republicans say the Democrats should drop the debt ceiling from the measure to keep government doors open, add the Iron Dome funding and raise the debt ceiling via the party-line budget reconciliation maneuver.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Republicans would easily help approve a spending bill that does not touch the debt limit to avoid a shutdown, but was again adamant his party would block any debt limit increase. He said he will offer his proposal before the failed vote on Monday evening.

Even as Senate Republicans have the votes to sink the bill, some are still keeping their decision close to the vest.

“We should act immediately on the proposal for a CR to prevent a government shutdown later this week, along with urgent disaster assistance for states hit hard by the hurricanes, aid for resettling Afghan allies, and replenishing the Iron Dome money for Israel. That package could be passed today,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

But Democrats counter that much of the new debt was incurred under the Trump administration and that doing so along party lines would set a problematic precedent. Democrats also highlight that they raised the debt ceiling three times when former President Donald Trump was in power and the vast majority of debt ceiling increases have been bipartisan.

In the modern Congress, it’s common to be days — or even hours — away from a government shutdown without a clear plan for averting a funding lapse. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the chamber’s top Republican appropriator, projected confidence that Senate leaders will eventually find ways to head off both fiscal cliffs before turmoil ensues.

“At the end of the day — I don’t know when that’s going to be now — that we’ll pass a [continuing resolution], and we’ll work out the debt limit,” said Shelby, who has served in Congress for more than 40 years. “This is nothing new here.”

Heather Caygle and Jennifer Scholtes contributed to this report.

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