US stares at govt shutdown as Senate fails to back bill
A sharply divided US Senate failed on Monday to advance a measure to suspend the federal debt ceiling and avoid a partial government shutdown, as Republican lawmakers denied the bill the votes necessary to move forward.
The legislation by President Joe Biden's Democrats was aimed at beating two fast-approaching deadlines that, if left unaddressed, threaten to destabilize the US economy as it struggles to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The near party-line vote of 48 votes to advance against 50 opposed fell short of the 60 votes needed to push the bill ahead in the 100-seat Senate. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer voted "no" to allow him to call another vote.
Democrats who narrowly control both chambers of Congress now have just three days to find another way to keep the government operating beyond Thursday, when current funding expires.
Republican Senator Richard Shelby predicted that lawmakers would not resolve the standoff any time soon. "Probably will be here Thursday," he told reporters.
Lawmakers also will have to figure out how to raise the debt ceiling to head off the risk of default, with independent analysts warning that the US Treasury Department is likely to exhaust its borrowing authority fully sometime between October 15 and November 4.
Schumer, who has warned that a default would hammer the economy, said afterward that Democrats would take further action this week to avoid a government shutdown and debt default. He did not specify what the next step would be.
"Our country is now staring down the barrel of two Republican-manufactured disasters," he said after the vote.
A government shutdown, or worse, a default, would be a huge hit to Biden's Democrats, who have positioned themselves as the party of responsible government after Republican Donald Trump's chaotic presidency.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell tried unsuccessfully to force the chamber to vote for a funding extension, separate from the provision that would suspend the government's US$28.4 trillion debt limit through the end of 2022.
"We could have a bipartisan vote to fund the government today, if not for the odd tactics of the Senate Democratic leader," he said.
Republicans want the Democrats to lift the debt limit on their own, saying they do not support their spending plans. Democrats point out that much of the nation's new debt was incurred during Trump's administration.