Top Democrats are keenly aware that, in averting one fiscal cliff, they have forfeited leverage in heading off another — a national debt default expected to hit in less than 20 days. After Senate Republicans followed through this week on their threats to block action on the debt limit, Democratic leaders decided to forgo an immediate remedy to the impending debt crisis, in the interest of preventing a government shutdown.
“With so many things happening here in Washington, the last thing the American people need is for the government to grind to a halt. But, of course, we have more work to do,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the floor Thursday. “Just as our Republican colleagues realize that a government shutdown would be catastrophic, they should realize that a default on the national debt would be even worse.”
Besides stripping language to waive the debt limit, Democrats also dropped $1 billion for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system before the measure first passed the House last week. While it was progressive Democrats who initially objected to that funding, some Republicans have also taken issue with the fact that the new spending would add to the deficit rather than be offset by savings or new revenue.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that the removal of the missile defense funding was “seriously disappointing,” casting blame across the aisle.
“It honestly baffles me that defensive aid to our ally Israel has become a thorny subject for the political left,” McConnell said on the floor.
Before the Senate votes on passage of the stopgap funding bill, the chamber will vote on three Republican amendments to appease the minority party. A proposal from Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas, would bar federal money from being used to enforce Covid-19 vaccine mandates.
The chamber will also vote on a “no budget, no pay” amendment from Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana that would deny lawmakers their paychecks until they approve a budget for a new fiscal year and fully fund the government at updated levels.
Many Senate Republicans have taken issue with language in the funding bill that would grant Afghan refugees Real IDs, the federally recognized identification cards Congress mandated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to ramp up the security of ID checks at airports and federal facilities. So the Senate will vote on an amendment by Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas that would nix that ID eligibility.
Cotton’s proposal also would require the Biden administration to report to Congress on how many Afghan refugees receive benefits like resettlement assistance and direct the Department of Homeland Security to interview Afghan refugees seeking asylum within 15 days of their application, rather than within 45 days.
Before the vote, Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) urged senators to reject all three GOP amendments, arguing that there would be a shutdown if any one were approved.
“With only 13 hours before the government is set to shut down, any one of these amendments could imperil” the stopgap, Leahy said on the floor. “They are controversial and could complicate House passage.”
During her weekly press conference on Thursday morning, Speaker Nancy Pelosi reiterated that the House will quickly take up the stopgap once the Senate sends it over.
“A shutdown is not anything anyone wants,” she said, adding that “we didn’t think we’d ever have one.”
Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.