A stopgap bill is a temporary measure that extends the current funding levels of the federal government for a short period of time. It is usually passed when Congress fails to agree on a regular appropriations bill that sets the annual budget for the government. A stopgap bill prevents a government shutdown, which occurs when the government runs out of money and has to suspend most of its operations and services.
Why did the Senate need to pass a stopgap bill?
The Senate needed to pass a stopgap bill because the current fiscal year ends on September 30, 2023, and Congress has not yet passed any of the 12 regular appropriations bills that fund the government for the next fiscal year. The House of Representatives passed a stopgap bill on September 21, 2023, that would fund the government until December 3, 2023, but it also included a provision to suspend the debt limit, which is the legal limit on how much the government can borrow to pay its bills. The debt limit is expected to be reached in mid-October, and if it is not raised or suspended, the government could default on its obligations and trigger a financial crisis.
However, the Senate Republicans opposed the House-passed stopgap bill because they did not want to help Democrats raise or suspend the debt limit. They argued that Democrats should use their own budget reconciliation process, which allows them to pass certain bills with a simple majority in the Senate, to address the debt limit issue. They also accused Democrats of spending too much on their social and environmental agenda, which they plan to pass through reconciliation.
How did the Senate pass the stopgap bill?
The Senate passed the stopgap bill on September 27, 2023, after reaching a bipartisan agreement to separate the funding and debt limit issues. The Senate voted 65-35 to advance the stopgap bill that only funds the government until December 3, 2023, without any debt limit provision. The bill also includes emergency funding for natural disaster relief and Afghan refugee resettlement. The Senate then voted 69-28 to pass the final version of the bill and send it back to the House for approval.
The Senate also voted on a Republican amendment that would prohibit the use of federal funds to enforce Covid-19 vaccine mandates for federal workers, contractors, health care providers, and recipients of certain federal benefits. The amendment failed by a vote of 48-50, with two Republicans joining all Democrats in opposing it. The amendment was seen as a symbolic gesture by some Republicans who object to President Joe Biden’s vaccine requirements.
What are the next steps for the stopgap bill?
The next step for the stopgap bill is to be approved by the House of Representatives before it can be signed into law by President Biden. The House is expected to vote on the bill on September 28 or 29, 2023, and pass it with mostly Democratic support. However, some progressive Democrats may oppose the bill because it does not include any debt limit provision. They may also demand that their party leaders commit to passing their $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that includes spending on health care, education, climate change, and social programs.
The stopgap bill will only fund the government until December 3, 2023, which means that Congress will have to pass another funding bill or face another shutdown threat before then. Moreover, Congress will still have to deal with the debt limit issue before mid-October or risk a default on the nation’s debt. The Democrats have said that they will try to raise or suspend the debt limit through reconciliation, but they will need unanimous support from their party members in both chambers. The Republicans have said that they will not cooperate with Democrats on the debt limit and will try to block their reconciliation package.
What are the implications of a government shutdown?
A government shutdown occurs when Congress fails to pass a funding bill or a stopgap bill before the end of a fiscal year or an expiration date. A shutdown affects many aspects of the federal government and its services. Some of the consequences of a shutdown are:
- About 800,000 federal workers are furloughed or work without pay until the shutdown ends.
- Essential services such as national security, law enforcement, air traffic control, and health care continue to operate but may face delays or disruptions.
- Nonessential services such as national parks, museums, research agencies, and regulatory offices are closed or reduced.
- Federal benefits such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits, and food stamps continue to be paid but may face delays or interruptions.
- Federal contracts and grants are suspended or delayed.
- Economic activity and consumer confidence are negatively affected by uncertainty and reduced spending.
The last government shutdown occurred from December 22, 2018, to January 25, 2019, and lasted for 35 days. It was the longest shutdown in US history and cost an estimated $11 billion in lost output and revenue.