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Senate passes short-term funding bill, skirts government shutdown

Senate lawmakers approved legislation that will keep the government funded through March 11

Less than 36 hours out from a government shutdown deadline, the Senate passed short-term legislation Thursday night to keep the lights on and the federal government running.

Lawmakers passed the stopgap spending bill by a vote of 65 -27 after Democratic absences early in the day and Republican demands for votes on several amendments threatened to derail the process and trigger a shutdown.

The legislation will now keep the military and executive agencies funded through March 11 at levels agreed to by the previous Congress.

But the road to a vote on the legislation, known as a continuing resolution, was a bumpy one.

Republicans forced votes on three amendments including one amendment spearheaded by Texas Senator Ted Cruz that would have banned federal funds from going to schools that mandate Covid-19 vaccinations and on another amendment led by Utah Senator Mike Lee to temporarily defund vaccine mandates for federal employees and medical workers.

Senator Mike Braun, a Republican from Indiana, also proposed tacking on a provision that would have required a balanced annual budget. 

All three amendments failed, but it was a tight numbers game for Democrats early in the day, with many concerned about how several Democratic absences several including that of Senator Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico who is recovering from a stroke, would affect the amendment votes.

Other Democrats who were not in their offices for the vote included Senators Mark Kelly and Dianne Feinstein, citing family medical emergencies.

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But by late Thursday evening, four Republican senators were absent, helping Democrats overcome what would have been a major obstacle to avoiding a shutdown.

The addition of any of the amendments to the short-term spending bill would have sent the legislation back for a vote in the House, though that body is already in recess after passing its version of the stopgap bill earlier this month.

The continuing resolution now gives Congress three more weeks to agree to funding levels for the military and executive agencies through the end of the fiscal year.

Lawmakers have continuously struggled to agree to a long-term spending plan, known as an omnibus, relying solely on short-term budget bills since the fiscal year began back in October.

An omnibus package would consist of 12 bills and spend an estimated $1.5 trillion on agency and military funding, but the two parties have been at odds for months as Democrats have pushed for increased domestic spending and Republicans have championed expanding the budget for defense programs.

Last week, congressional leaders announced they had agreed to a framework for long-term spending, but so far lawmakers have not provided details on the deal or its price tag.

Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont and chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, hinted that the framework will make significant investments in domestic programs.

“It will provide the biggest increase in non-defense programs in four years. Under this framework, we can direct new resources to improve healthcare in rural communities, expand the middle class and protect our national security,” Leahy said on the Senate floor Thursday.

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Architect of the Capitol

The Senate Wing of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.