U.S. Senate starts debate on funding bill to avert government shutdown

A general view of the U.S. Capitol building on Capitol Hill in Washington

The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted to take up a stopgap funding bill to keep the federal government operating through Dec. 11, paving the way for final passage before a deadline next week.

With government funding running out on Sept. 30, the legislation would continue funding most programs at current levels, and thus avoid a government shutdown in the middle of a pandemic and ahead of the Nov. 3 U.S. elections.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 93-2 to open debate on the measure. Senator John Thune, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, said the vote on final passage was expected on Wednesday.

Thune said the Senate could have finished work on the bill this week but Democrats insisted on delaying it as part of procedural tactics to protest the Republican decision to press ahead with an effort to fill the seat of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She died last week.

“They’re trying to throw a wrench into anything that we do. I mean, this is obviously … retribution for the decision on the Court,” Thune said. “It doesn’t make sense to me either to bring everybody back next week, when we could finish this today.” A spokesman for Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The House of Representatives passed the temporary spending bill on Tuesday after Democrats struck a deal with the White House and Republicans on aid for farmers and nutritional assistance for children.

Under the agreement, a program to stabilize farm incomes would be replenished, as requested by the White House, while $8 billion would be added to nutrition assistance for school children, which the Democrats sought.

The rest of the bill generally continues current spending levels and gives lawmakers more time to work out spending through September 2021, including for military operations, healthcare, national parks, space programs, and airport and border security.

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