The Senate overwhelmingly voted Tuesday night in favor of the first procedural move needed to avert a partial government shutdown at the end of this week.
The chamber voted 68-13 to end debate on the motion to proceed to the shell legislative vehicle for the stopgap spending measure, which would run to March 1 for four of the dozen annual appropriations bills and until March 8 for the remaining eight.
Leadership in both chambers are in favor of the stopgap measure, which is designed to give appropriators more time to negotiate final fiscal 2024 appropriations bills following the $1.66 trillion topline agreement Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., announced earlier this month.
Without a stopgap extension, under the current law budget authority for agencies covered by the Agriculture, Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD bills would expire after Friday, Jan. 19. Those bills cover about 20 percent of federal discretionary spending controlled by the Appropriations committees.
Even with Tuesday night’s vote, any one senator could choose to delay passage into the weekend by using the chamber’s procedural tools. Schumer urged senators not to clog up the process, so they can pass the continuing resolution in plenty of time to get it to the House in time to beat the deadline.
“If both sides continue to work in good faith, I’m hopeful that we can wrap up work on the CR no later than Thursday,” Schumer said on the floor Tuesday.
Appropriators are currently negotiating how the topline, which includes $886.3 billion for defense and $772.7 billion for nondefense, will be split across the 12 annual appropriations bills.
Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, are continuing to negotiate subcommittee allocations, a process that appropriators had hoped to wrap up last week.
Border and immigration negotiations in the Senate have been lurching along slowly, with supplemental aid to Ukraine and Israel held up in the process. However, even if a bipartisan Senate group can strike a deal, Johnson is under heavy pressure from GOP conservatives to ignore any such accord.
Biden is scheduled to meet with congressional leaders at the White House on Wednesday to discuss the supplemental.
The new stopgap measure would, in theory, give appropriators enough time to wrap up fiscal 2024 appropriations without the need for another short-term patch.
However, a handful of major obstacles are in the way of passage of final appropriations. For example, the topline deal between Schumer and Johnson did not include an agreement on policy riders.
Democrats have said they will not accept any new riders, while Johnson is vowing to fight for conservative policy wins.
Securing GOP priorities in policy riders could help Johnson ease pushback from some members of House Republicans’ right flank, who are upset about the topline deal and temporarily slowed House action last week in protest.
With a slim majority and opposition to stopgap measures from some Republicans, Johnson will have to pass the stopgap bill under suspension of the rules. This will require a two-thirds majority of lawmakers present and voting in the House, which is how the chamber has passed the previous two stopgap measures this Congress.
Daniel Hillburn contributed to this report.