Bill to Prevent Government Shutdown Released by Senate Democrats

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(Bloomberg) -- Senate Democrats released a short-term government funding bill late Monday that included a measure to speed up energy project permits that’s opposed by most Republicans and some Democrats.

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Congress must pass the measure by midnight Friday to avert a government shutdown. Leaders of both parties in the Senate are eager to avoid that chaotic outcome just over a month before the midterm elections. But the permit legislation proposed by Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, is adding an additional bit of drama with the deadline closing in.

The chances of a government shutdown are fairly low because Congress still can strip out the permitting measure if senators block the funding bill over it.

The Senate plans to hold a procedural vote on the bill, which would keep government open past the November election to Dec. 16, on Tuesday night.

The bill would provide $12.4 billion to Ukraine to aid its war effort against Russia, slightly more than the $11.7 billion requested by the Biden administration. It would also authorize the Biden administration to transfer up to $3.7 billion more in US defense equipment to Ukraine.

The bill would provide $2 billion for unmet needs from recent disasters and a $1 billion to bolster home heating assistance.

In addition, Food and Drug Administration would be authorized to collect user fees for five years, preventing a funding shortfall that threatens layoffs. The bill provides money to assist resettlement of Afghan refugees but does not provide the smoother path to permanent residency that advocates had sought.

Senate Democratic leaders included the permit provision authored by Manchin in the stopgap bill as part of a deal with to secure his vote on a climate and tax bill in August. The text would also green-light federal approval of Equitrans Midstream Corp.’s stalled $6.6 billion natural gas pipeline running through his home state.

Yet Manchin hasn’t yet lined up the 60 votes for his bill required under Senate rules and has spent days pleading with Republicans to accept a compromise version of the permitting changes to fossil fuel projects they have championed for years. He has received support from West Virginia’s other senator, Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican.

But other Republicans have little interest in voting for Manchin’s bill, which they regard as payback for his role in helping the Democrats achieve a victory for President Joe Biden with the climate legislation.

“This is the most important thing that we can do today, and it’s the most critical problem we have in front of us, which is energy independence and security,” Manchin said Sunday on Fox News. “It would be basically a lost moment in history if we don’t do this.”

Manchin also faces opposition from progressives, with Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, vowing to vote against the stopgap bill and others hinting they may as well. Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine is irate over the pipeline provision given opposition in northern Virginia to its completion.

“We have made significant progress toward a Continuing Resolution that is as clean as possible. But, if the Democrats insist on including permitting reform, I will oppose it,” top spending panel Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama said in a statement.

If the bill fails to get 60 votes in the Senate on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to strip out the permitting language and try again. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week that if the Senate stalls the House is prepared to vote on a slimmed-down stopgap bill to avert a shutdown.

To win Republican support, the bill does not include the $22 billion in funding to fight Covid-19 sought by the Biden administration or the $4 billion request to combat monkeypox. The GOP had argued that in the wake of Biden declaring the coronavirus pandemic “over” they would be unwilling to provide more emergency funds for it and cuts should be made elsewhere to fund future efforts.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro urged Congress to pass the bill even though she said she was saddened that the Manchin energy provision was included while coronvavirus funds were not.

“Despite these shortcomings, the continuing resolution still provides resources critical to our communities and national security. And with just four days before the end of the fiscal year, it keeps the government open. I urge my colleagues in both chambers to act quickly to pass this legislation,” DeLauro said.

The spending bill does not include $1.5 billion for emergency uranium purchases requested by the White House to ease US reliance on Russian uranium, or funds to modernize the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

A stopgap spending bill is necessary because Congress hasn’t passed any of the 12 annual appropriations measures to pay for government operations for fiscal 2023, which begins Oct. 1.

If Republicans win the majority in the House as expected in the midterms, there will be pressure in the party to delay final 2023 spending decisions until the new Congress is seated in January to give the GOP a chance to enact its priorities, including cutting the Internal Revenue Service’s budget to decrease tax audits.

(Updates with DeLauro statement, starting in 16th paragraph.)

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