Lawmakers Propose Measure to Avert Government Shutdown This Week
WASHINGTON — Top lawmakers proposed a stopgap funding package on Monday night that would avert a government shutdown at the end of the week and set aside a major new round of emergency aid to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia.
With funding set to run out when a new fiscal year begins on Saturday, lawmakers are aiming to quickly move the legislation through both chambers in the coming days to keep the government funded through Dec. 16. But even as the final details of the package came together, it faced an increasing likelihood that it could not pass in its current form.
Most of the measures in the package, which would punt difficult negotiations over the dozen annual spending bills to after the November midterm elections,appeared to generate little opposition.It would provide just over $12 billion in military and economic aid to Ukraine, and ensure the federal government could quickly spend money on natural disaster recovery efforts, according to a summary from the Senate Appropriations Committee. It also notably sidestepped the Biden administration’s request for emergency funds to combat the coronavirus pandemic and monkeypox, given Republican opposition.
But the regular autumn scramble to avoid a shutdown has been complicated by the inclusion of a plan that would make it easier to build energy infrastructure across the country. The legislation is the product of a Democratic deal that helped secure the vote of Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a centrist Democrat, for the tax, health and climate law known as the Inflation Reduction Act, but lawmakers in both parties have objected to tying it to the must-pass spending bill.
“I am disappointed that unrelated permitting reform was attached to this bill,” Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement. “However, with four days left in the fiscal year, we cannot risk a government shutdown; we must work to advance this bill,” he added.
The sentiment was echoed in a separate statement by his House counterpart, Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, who noted that “while the bill provides a bridge to the omnibus, it is not perfect.”
The Senate is set to take a first procedural vote on Tuesday, and it appears increasingly unlikely that the stopgap bill will advance with the permitting overhaul bill in tow. Should the package fail to secure enough support, lawmakers may strip out the permitting proposal and pass the government funding bill on its own to avoid a shutdown.
Several Republicans, whose votes are essential in order to clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the evenly divided Senate, have said they have little interest in helping to deliver on a promise that prompted Mr. Manchin to drop his opposition to the broader health, climate and tax plan and allow it to pass over their party’s unanimous opposition.
In a statement, Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, acknowledged the “significant progress” made toward a short-term bill that “is as clean as possible.” But, he warned, “if the Democrats insist on including permitting reform, I will oppose it.”
Lawmakers in both parties have expressed opposition to the details of the permitting legislation, which Mr. Manchin released last week. Republicans have said the legislation does not go far enough to ensure projects are approved more quickly, while liberal Democrats are alarmed at provisions that would make it easier to build fossil fuel infrastructure and guarantee completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a natural gas project that passes through West Virginia.
In an effort to speed up the permitting process, the legislation would instruct agencies to complete required environmental reviews within about two years for major projects and limit the window for court challenges.
Some Democrats, including climate hawks, have signaled they will support the permitting package because they say it will help speed up the construction of transmission lines and other infrastructure needed to combat climate change and help deliver on President Biden’s pledge to cut United States emissions roughly in half by 2030.
“To meet our climate goals, and as renewable energy projects continue to become more economically viable, we must enact reasonable permitting reform — which includes expedited review processes that also maintain fundamental environmental protections,” said Representative Sean Casten, Democrat of Illinois, in a statement. “Anything less is failing to do what is scientifically necessary to preserve our planet.”
But at least one member of the Democratic caucus, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, has confirmed that he will vote against the stopgap spending bill because of the permitting reform legislation, meaning 11 Republicans will need to back the measure to avoid a filibuster if all 49 remaining senators in the Democratic caucus vote for it. In the House, dozens of liberal Democrats have called for a separate vote on the permitting measure.
“Congress has a fundamental choice to make,” Mr. Sanders wrote in a letter urging his colleagues to reject the measure. “We can listen to the fossil fuel industry and climate deniers who are spending huge amounts of money on lobbying and campaign contributions to pass this side deal. Or we can listen to the scientists and the environmental community who are telling us loudly and clearly to reject it.”
Mr. Manchin has begun a persuasion campaign centered on his Republican colleagues, including an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal and an appearance on Fox News.
“It would be basically a lost moment in history if we don’t do this,” Mr. Manchin declared in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” Referring to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, he added: “I’m hoping that they will look at what we have in front of us — the energy independence, security, stopping Putin dead in his tracks, being able to do what we need to do to reduce the price of energy and helping people in their homes as far as energy cost there. We have a golden opportunity.”
Ukraine’s recent military success, including reclaiming territory from Russia this month, has rallied lawmakers, who have already approved roughly $54 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid this year, behind the prospect of pouring more money into the effort.
The new package would set aside $3 billion for training, equipment, weapons and intelligence support for Ukrainian forces, as well as $4.5 billion for the Economic Support Fund, which is intended to help the Ukrainian government continue to function. It also would allow Mr. Biden to authorize the transfer of up to $3.7 billion of American equipment and weapons to the country.
The legislation also aims to address a few domestic needs. In addition to providing $20 million to help address the water crisis in Jackson, Miss., and $2 billion for a block grant program to help communities rebuild after natural disasters in 2021 and 2022, it would give the federal government more flexibility to spend existing disaster aid quickly.
The package also includes language that would ensure the Food and Drug Administration maintains the ability to collect industry fees that make up much of its budget.
Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.