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Congress faces government shutdown Thursday

United State capitol in Washington, D.C. © iStock - Muni Yogeshwaran
Casey Harper | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – Congress faces a potential government shutdown this week as Democrats and Republicans wrestle over several trillion dollars in federal spending.

The federal government will run out of funds and be forced to shut down at the end of the month, giving Congress a deadline of midnight Thursday to keep open nonessential services like national parks and the IRS.

In addition, Congress also faces looming pressure to raise the debt ceiling in the coming weeks to avoid defaulting on federal debt obligations. 

The U.S. House passed a stopgap measure last week to fund the government through Dec. 3, put money toward hurricane relief, and suspend the debt ceiling until December of next year, after the midterm elections.

Senate Republicans blocked that bill Monday, saying they would support funding the government but not suspending the debt ceiling for over a year.

Democrats have enough votes to raise the debt ceiling on their own through reconciliation if all 50 Democratic senators vote to do so, along with the tiebreaker from Vice President Kamala Harris.

That approach is seen as a politically dangerous one going into an election year, part of the reason Republicans have refused to help Democrats avoid the responsibility for single-handedly increasing the national debt. Biden even boasted over the weekend that his signature $3.5 trillion legislation would not increase the national debt, a claim many doubt since the bill’s details have not been finalized.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, has said Republicans will not help Democrats pave the way for their trillions of dollars in new federal spending, especially when they have the votes to do it themselves.

“If Washington Democrats want to jam through trillions of dollars in reckless spending all by themselves, they can raise the debt limit all by themselves,” McConnell said. “If they want to do one, they’ll need to do the other.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., suggested a compromise would be reached.

“We will keep our government open by Sept. 30, which is our date, and continue the conversation about the debt ceiling, but not for long,” Pelosi told reporters.

In addition to preventing a shutdown through a funding measure, the federal government must also continue making payments on its debt by raising the debt limit. 

If the debt ceiling is not raised, the U.S. could default, bringing serious economic consequences via interest rates, the stock market, and other factors.

“We all agree America must not default,” McConnell said. “We have a Democratic President, House, and Senate. They have decided to operate on a partisan basis. So Democrats should not play Russian roulette with our economy. They have an obligation to raise the debt ceiling and they will do it.”

Democrats may be forced to combine the debt ceiling increase with their already controversial $3.5 trillion spending bill.

Meanwhile, the infrastructure bill has still yet to pass Congress, despite bipartisan support. That vote is expected Thursday.