USA: Congress avoids closure at the last minute

The US Congress has avoided the forced shutdown of key federal agencies and a halt in government business just hours before the start of the new fiscal year. After the Senate, the House also approved a bridging bill Thursday night that ensures all offices and assignments are funded through December 3. Had no agreement been reached, by midnight the government would have run out of money to pay the salaries of tens of thousands of workers and service providers in key sectors. Many authorities had to close their doors to the public as a result of this “lockdown”. Employees in “essentially important” areas would have had to continue working, but they would no longer be paid.

With the passage of the law, which was also approved by at least 15 opposition Republicans in the Senate, the United States will avoid a government crisis, at least for the time being. However, President Joe Biden is not out of the woods yet, as his government will reach the legal national debt limit of $28.4 trillion (about €24 trillion) by mid-October. If the limit is not raised or completely abolished, the United States will have to declare a kind of national bankruptcy: some of its lenders in the financial markets and in private homes will not receive the promised interest, and at the same time the government will not receive the promised benefits, and you will have to stop paying many of the promised benefits the law.

The controversy over a potential “shutdown” and debt ceiling has overshadowed a congressional row over Biden’s infrastructure program, in which the president wants to rehabilitate roads, bridges and railroads across the country and expand the digital network. However, in this case, only the ruling Democrats are to blame for the bickering: Although the entire party supports Biden’s plans with a total volume of one trillion dollars, left-wing lawmakers have threatened to vote No in the vote scheduled for Thursday night. The reason: Parliamentarians are asking their party friends in the Senate, which is also dominated by Democrats, to also agree to the president’s $3.5 trillion social, family and climate program. However, because Kirsten Senema and Joe Manchin, two of the Chamber’s Democrats, dismissed the package as too expensive, no deal was initially reached.

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Postponing the fight

The budget dispute was only postponed. Unlike in Germany, for example, Congress does not have to pass a single comprehensive budget law by September 30 of each year, but rather many individual budget laws to ensure that all government work is funded. If that doesn’t work, transitional laws that freeze spending for a few weeks or months can be passed at the level of the previous fiscal year.

Both political parties have used deadlines repeatedly in budget legislation over the past decades to put political pressure on the respective government. At the end of 2018, then-President Donald Trump caused the “shutdown” himself because Congress did not want to provide the billions he was asking for to build a border wall with Mexico. However, after more than a month, Trump finally gave in.

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