Congress avoids government shutdown but infrastructure battle looms

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 1:30 p.m. ET, October 1, 2021
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12:02 p.m. ET, September 30, 2021

Schumer and McConnell say Senate will vote on funding bill today to avert shutdown

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivers remarks from the Senate floor on Thursday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivers remarks from the Senate floor on Thursday. (Senate TV)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell both confirmed on the Senate floor moments ago that the chamber plans to pass a stopgap funding bill today to avert a government shutdown and keep the government funded through early December.

Schumer said he’s “confident the House will approve this measure later this afternoon and send it to the President's desk before funding runs out” at midnight tonight.

"Some good news — today the Senate will pass a continuing resolution that will eliminate the possibility of a government shutdown tonight," Schumer said in floor remarks Thursday morning.

The continuing resolution, Schumer said, “will keep the government funded until December 3, provide funding.. to help process and resettle Afghan refugees and finally deliver on critical disaster aid for Americans battered by the storms and wildfires this summer.”

The New York Democrat also delayed the vote series on several amendments that will be followed by final passage of the funding bill now set to begin at 11:05 a.m. ET (instead of 10:30 a.m. ET).

"On government funding, what Republicans laid out all along was a clean continuing resolution without the poison pill of a debt limit increase. That's exactly what we'll pass today," McConnell said. 

Schumer also said that the Senate could take up the House-passed bill to suspend the nation’s debt limit “as early as next week.” The bill is expected to be blocked in the Senate by Republicans, who oppose helping Democrats address the debt ceiling.

Schumer announced Wednesday evening that an agreement had been reached, paving the way for a Thursday vote in the chamber on a continuing resolution, which keeps the government funded at current levels for a set time period.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks from the Senate floor on Thursday.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks from the Senate floor on Thursday. (Senate TV)

"We have an agreement on the CR, the continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown, and we should be voting on that tomorrow morning," Schumer, a New York Democrat, said.

Congressional Democrats initially attempted to address the government funding issue alongside the debt limit, a strategy that was thwarted by Republicans in the Senate who have insisted that Democrats must act alone on the debt limit.

CNN's Ali Zaslav and Clare Foran contributed reporting to this post. 

12:03 p.m. ET, September 30, 2021

A funding bill, infrastructure and the debt ceiling: Here's why Congress is talking about all 3

(Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg/Getty Images)
(Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

If you're confused about what Congress is voting on today, you're not alone. We're talking about multiple bills – that are technically separate – but have an impact on each other.

Here's the cheat sheet:

  1. First – a funding bill. Government funding expires at midnight which means Congress needs to pass a stopgap funding bill in order to keep the government open and avert a shutdown. Democrats, who control both chambers of Congress, are expected to vote on this today. They have so far projected confidence that a shutdown will not occur, but with the deadline rapidly approaching, lawmakers have no room for error.
  2. Second – infrastructure. A vote on Biden's $1.2 trillion Senate-passed infrastructure bill is also slated for today (although this was a self-imposed deadline by the Democrats.) If Congress can't get its act together on keeping the government open, then a vote on infrastructure looks unlikely. That's bad news for the President, since the infrastructure bill is such a key part of Biden's legislative agenda. However, it doesn't mean an infrastructure vote is over, just delayed.
  3. Third – the debt ceiling. This is when America would run out of money to pay its bills as it would reach its borrowing limit – also known as its debt ceiling. If the US can't pay its bills, that would trigger a first-ever US default and a self-inflicted economic crisis. It could delay federal payments, including Social Security checks and monthly child tax credit payments. Although this wouldn't happen until mid-October, what happens today could signal how a vote on raising the debt ceiling will go and where key Republican and Democrat lawmakers stand on spending. (There's also a risk that Congress runs out of cash earlier than expected, setting the stage for an accidental default.)

To make things more complicated, both parties are split among themselves on spending – with progressives and conservatives trying to push their own agendas.

That's why everyone is watching what happens in Congress today.

You can read more about all this here.

CNN's Clare Foran, Zachary B. Wolf, Matt Egan, Ali Zaslav and Daniella Diaz contributed reporting to this post. 

10:07 a.m. ET, September 30, 2021

Pelosi says the plan right now is to still hold infrastructure vote today

From CNN's Lauren Fox, Annie Grayer and Daniella Diaz

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walks to the House chamber at the US Capitol on Wednesday, September 29.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walks to the House chamber at the US Capitol on Wednesday, September 29. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the plan is still to vote on the infrastructure bill today. 

She said that “you’re moment by moment. I’m hour by hour,” when asked about what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles. 

Pelosi just called a leadership meeting as they try to sort out their strategy, members and aides tell CNN.

More on the bill: The Senate passed the massive bipartisan infrastructure bill in early August after months of negotiations. In total, the deal includes $550 billion in new federal investments in America's infrastructure over five years. Now it's up to the House to take a final vote on it. 

Progressive Democrats say they are planning to withhold their votes from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill unless they receive progress on the second, multi-trillion economic and climate package. 

9:49 a.m. ET, September 30, 2021

Top Biden aide tamps down expectations for an infrastructure vote today

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins 

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm in an interview on New Day tamped down expectations for a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill today.

"It is not some major cataclysm if there isn't a vote today....This will get through. Mark my words. The infrastructure bill will be passed and a version of the reconciliation bill will be as well,” she said.

Where things stand now: The bottom line is that President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, after days of feverish behind-the-scenes efforts, entered the day with no clear path to securing a majority in the scheduled vote on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Progressive Democrats aren't just planning to withhold their votes from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill unless they receive progress on the second, multi-trillion economic and climate package. They have been asking for legislative text. They want to know exactly what they are getting in the bigger bill before they sign on to moderates' infrastructure plan. It's called leverage — but it's also bringing Biden's agenda to the brink.

CNN's Phil Mattingly and Lauren Fox contributed reporting to this post.

9:36 a.m. ET, September 30, 2021

The impacts of a potential government shutdown on the country's Covid-19 response

From CNN's Kristen Holmes

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. (Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Extra steps were taken this week to ensure that Covid-19 response would not be greatly impacted if the government were to shut down, according to multiple administration officials.  

“We are confident Congress will prevent a lapse in appropriations. This is no time for Republicans to play political games with the lives or livelihoods of American families and businesses,” a senior administration official tells CNN. “However, as is consistent with longstanding practice across multiple Administrations, we are preparing for any contingency, and HHS has updated its plan for a potential lapse in appropriations.”

According to this official, they are taking “every step it legally can to mitigate the impacts of a potential shutdown on our pandemic response, and direct public health efforts would generally proceed under the HHS plan.”

Some of those steps include:

  • The US Food and Drug Administration would continue Covid-19 pandemic activities related to authorizations, any drug and medical product shortages, and fraudulent, counterfeit and misbranded products.
  • The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would continue supporting the Covid-19 response, protecting the health and well-being of US citizens here and abroad, and maintaining laboratory functions and the agency's 24/7 emergency operations center.
  • The National Institutes of Health would continue to support priority Covid-19 research and development, grants research oversight, and contracting activities.

Other pandemic response work – from vaccine procurement and distribution to therapeutic clinical trials and drug reviews – would also continue.

The official went on to stress the dangers of a shutdown on the pandemic response.

“While the administration will take every step we legally can to minimize the impacts of a potential shutdown on our pandemic response, the reality is shutdowns are incredibly costly, disruptive, and damaging. For instance, HHS anticipates that 43% of its staff would be furloughed in the event of a lapse in appropriations, and that is the last thing we need as we continue to confront the pandemic," the official said.

9:29 a.m. ET, September 30, 2021

Why a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill is at risk today

From CNN's Phil Mattingly and Lauren Fox

Construction workers build a bridge in Miami, Florida, on September 27.
Construction workers build a bridge in Miami, Florida, on September 27. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

President Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer failed to thread the needle between restive corners of their caucuses on a self-imposed (or "self-inflicted," in the words of one House Democrat) deadline to pass a core tenet of their domestic agenda.

Barring some unseen dramatic shift, there appear to be only two real options in the hours ahead:

  1. Hold the scheduled vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill and watch it fail
  2. Pull the bill

The bottom line is that Biden and Pelosi, after days of feverish behind-the-scenes efforts, enter the day with no clear path to securing a majority in the scheduled vote on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. But the process isn't over, that agenda isn't dead and there are still weeks, if not months, ahead of negotiations, according to multiple White House officials and lawmakers.

Pelosi told CNN's Manu Raju the plan was still to put the infrastructure bill on the floor. That followed a meeting with Biden and Schumer in the Oval Office.

But four days ago, she said this on ABC's "This Week":

"I'm never bringing a bill to the floor that doesn't have the votes."

Where things stand at the moment: The dynamics haven't shifted in the last several weeks. In many ways, they've only grown more entrenched.

Progressive Democrats aren't just planning to withhold their votes from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill unless they receive progress on the second, multi-trillion economic and climate package. They have been asking for legislative text. They want to know exactly what they are getting in the bigger bill before they sign on to moderates' infrastructure plan. It's called leverage, but it's also called bringing Biden's agenda to the brink.

"We cannot negotiate with ourselves," Rep. Katie Porter, a progressive, told CNN. "People say, 'Are you willing to negotiate with Sen. Manchin?' On what?"

Only two senators can provide that — Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Neither have done so, nor do they plan to, according to people who have spoken to both in the last 24 hours.

So things are frozen, and will likely remain so until there is public movement from the two moderate hold-outs.

8:47 a.m. ET, September 30, 2021

How a potential government shutdown could impact federal agencies

From CNN's Allie Malloy, Kevin Liptak and Jason Hoffman

The government is set to run out of money at midnight unless Congress comes together to pass a funding bill. If that doesn’t happen, a government shutdown will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 1.

As with all government shutdowns, certain government functions will come to a halt, while others will continue with employees not getting paid for a period of time. But a shutdown now has the added weight of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

If the government does shutdown, here are how the health agencies tasked with combatting the pandemic will move forward:

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • In the event of a lapse of appropriations, at least 6,448 (46%) of CDC staff will be retained including 2,518 (18%) who are exempt (their activities or positions are already funded or otherwise exempt) and 3,930 (28%) who are excepted (their activities are deemed necessary by implication, or for the safely of human life or protection of property).

US Food and Drug Administration

  • Activities that can be carried out with Covid-19 supplemental funding include work on emergency use authorizations to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, mitigation efforts related to potential drug and medical product shortages and other supply chain disruptions, medical device infection control, work on enforcement actions for fraudulent, counterfeit and misbranded products related to Covid-19, and work on medical counter measures, therapies, and vaccines and important generic and biosimilar treatment options.
  • In the event of a lapse of appropriation, 12,700 (69%) of FDA staff will be retained including 10,409 (57%) who are exempt (their activities or position are already funded or otherwise exempted) and 2,291 (13%) who are excepted (their activities are deemed necessary by implication, or for the safety of human life or protection of property).

All federal agencies would by impacted by a shutdown. Here are some other agencies plans for a lapse in government funding:

Department of Defense

  • All military personnel performing active duty will continue in a normal duty status regardless of their affiliation with excepted or non-excepted activities. Military personnel will not be paid until such time as Congress makes appropriated funds available to compensate them for this period of service.
  • Civilian personnel who are necessary to carry out or support excepted activities will continue in normal duty status and also will not be paid until Congress makes appropriated funds available.
  • Civilian employees paid from lapsed appropriations and who are not necessary to carry out or support excepted activities will be furloughed, or in other words, placed in a nonwork, non-pay status.

Department of Homeland Security

  • The Transportation Security Administration estimates 54,071 employees as the total number of employees exempt/excepted and estimated to be retained during a lapse in appropriations, although they will not be paid.
  • During the last government shutdown in 2018/19, hundreds of TSA officers who were required to work without paychecks through the partial government shutdown, called out from work at least four major airports.

National Park Service

  • Upon a shutdown, parks must notify visitors that the NPS will cease providing visitor services, including restrooms, trash collection, facilities and roads maintenance (including plowing), campground reservation and check-in/check-out services, backcountry and other permits, and public information.

Treasury Department

  • All audit functions and examination of returns will be ceased.

Small Business Administration

  • Most small business loan programs will cease approvals or support (aside from emergency assistance).

Housing and Urban Development

  • There will be slowdowns in getting Federal Housing Assistance loans.

Smithsonian 

  • All Smithsonian museums and galleries will be closed along with the National Zoo (including Panda Cam).
  • When the Institution’s available prior-year funding is exhausted, only federal activities designated as “excepted” will continue. The employees performing these activities are protecting life or property (including the national collections, National Zoo animals, and the safety/security of facilities and staff) and engaging in the orderly shutdown and management of the operations.

9:11 a.m. ET, September 30, 2021

Government funding expires at midnight. Here's where things stand in Congress.

From CNN's Clare Foran

Sunlight illuminates the US Capitol dome on Thursday morning.
Sunlight illuminates the US Capitol dome on Thursday morning. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Government funding expires at midnight and Congress has not yet passed a stopgap funding bill to avert a shutdown, though Democratic leaders are on track to do so later Thursday.

Lawmakers are racing the clock with the Senate and House both expected to vote to approve a short-term funding patch to keep the government open. Democrats, who control both chambers of Congress, have so far projected confidence that a shutdown will not occur, but with the deadline rapidly approaching, lawmakers have no room for error.

Where things stand now: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Wednesday evening that an agreement had been reached, paving the way for a Thursday vote in the chamber on a continuing resolution, which keeps the government funded at current levels for a set time period.

"We have an agreement on the CR, the continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown, and we should be voting on that tomorrow morning," Schumer, a New York Democrat, said.

How today could unfold: Beginning at 10:30 a.m. ET on Thursday, the Senate is slated to hold several amendment votes before voting on the continuing resolution. The House is expected to take up the measure later Thursday once it is approved by the Senate.

Congressional Democrats initially attempted to address the government funding issue alongside the debt limit, a strategy that was thwarted by Republicans in the Senate who have insisted that Democrats must act alone on the debt limit.

Read more about today's votes in Congress here.

9:11 a.m. ET, September 30, 2021

Schumer announces agreement with Republicans for stopgap funding bill vote Thursday

From CNN's Ali Zaslav and Clare Foran

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer walks through the US Capitol on Wednesday, September 29.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer walks through the US Capitol on Wednesday, September 29. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Wednesday night that Democrats had reached an agreement with Republicans on a stopgap bill to keep the government funded through early December and are expected to vote Thursday on the measure to avert a shutdown.

"We have an agreement on the CR — the continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown — and we should be voting on that tomorrow morning," Schumer said. The stopgap bill will include emergency funding for natural disaster relief and to assist in Afghan refugee resettlement, the New York Democrat said earlier.

The clock is ticking with government funding set to expire on Thursday, but Schumer said the Senate "can approve this measure quickly, and send it to the House so it can reach the President's desk before funding expires midnight tomorrow." The House is expected to take up the measure once the Senate has acted.

The effort to prevent a shutdown has in recent days been caught up in a fight over how to address a looming debt limit crisis. Democrats initially attempted to pair the two fiscal issues — the debt limit and government funding — and pass legislation that would resolve both, but that ran aground in the Senate due to GOP opposition.

Read more here.