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Congress primed to avert shutdown despite remaining conflicts

The Senate appears on track to prevent a government shutdown on Thursday at midnight, as Democrats and Republicans wade through last-minute impediments to a stopgap funding bill’s speedy passage.

Senators were close to finalizing an agreement on Wednesday evening that would tee up final passage of the short-term funding package on Thursday, just hours before federal cash expires, according to a source. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a fiscal hawk notorious for blocking spending bills, also indicated that he wouldn’t object to quickly passing the continuing resolution, which would keep the government funded through Dec. 3.

House leaders hope to quickly approve the measure after it passes the Senate.

“My sense is that we’ve got a lot of this worked out,” said Republican Sen. John Kennedy, whose hurricane-battered state of Louisiana would receive critical disaster aid through the bill. “I always thought we would get to this point.”

Lingering issues on Wednesday included GOP concerns about emergency money to help Afghan refugees settle in the U.S. Specifically, Republican senators disagreed with House-passed provisions around processing those refugees, including language that would make refugees who pass a background check eligible for benefits, a driver’s license or REAL ID card. There are also disagreements over funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which was nixed due to progressive objections but remains a priority for Senate Republicans.

Earlier Wednesday, Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Republicans are seeking amendments related to Israel’s missile defense system and Afghan refugee vetting, which could cause the vote to slip to Thursday.

The rush to avoid a shutdown comes after Senate Democrats ditched a provision that would suspend the cap on how much the government can borrow, through December 2022. By extending government funding into the beginning of December without including the debt ceiling, Democrats are relinquishing the threat of a shutdown as leverage in their bid to convince at least 10 senators from the other side of the aisle to join them in voting to take action on the debt limit.

As the Treasury Department warns an economically catastrophic default could hit by mid-October, House Democrats passed a standalone bill on Wednesday night to suspend the debt ceiling. It’s another messaging vote intended to paint Republicans as irresponsible and willing to endanger the global economy with a default on the nation’s debt.

The vote came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi chided about half a dozen moderates in a closed-door meeting on Wednesday morning after they initially threatened to reject the debt measure, which they see as a pointless political maneuver since Senate Republicans remain staunchly opposed.

The House bill to waive off the debt crisis is doomed on the other side of the Capitol, as evidenced by Senate Republicans’ move Monday night to reject a House-passed package that paired government funding and a debt limit suspension. The minority party again batted down an attempt to fast-track the bundle on Tuesday night, despite a push by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Republicans have refused to engage in any bipartisan action to lift the debt ceiling, with just weeks before the Treasury could run out of money. And Democrats, who are largely rejecting a one-party path that could prove grueling and time consuming, insist they will not buckle to GOP demands that they remedy the debt crisis through the budget reconciliation maneuver they are using to advance President Joe Biden’s social spending plan.

“The debt ceiling is not going to be increased through reconciliation, period. End of discussion,” Warren Gunnels, a top aide for Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), said Wednesday.

Because the Treasury Department expects the debt cliff to hit by Oct. 18, Democrats would need to start working out the logistics now if they are going to start down the arduous path of using the budget process to prevent the nation from defaulting on its loans next month. But Gunnels insists there is no need to game out that route.

“We’re not doing debt ceiling on reconciliation,” he said. “So those talks are not happening.”

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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