Congress accepts funding extension, avoiding shutdown for the third time

Congress once again avoided a partial government shutdown just a day before funding was set to expire. Both chambers approved a funding extension to March with overwhelmingly bipartisan support, allowing lawmakers more time to hammer out a long-term spending agreement.

The Senate voted 77-18 and the House voted 314-108 to extend funding to March 1 and March 8. Avoiding a shutdown means Americans are spared disruptions in food safety inspections, passport processing, air travel, early childhood learning programs, small business loans and more for another six weeks.

More Democrats than Republicans voted to support the GOP-led extension in the House.

“This allows us to go forward for the appropriators on both sides, both chambers, to come up with a final bill,” House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said at a weekly news conference. “It takes time to do that and so the reason we need just a little bit more time on the calendar is to allow that process to play out.”

President Joe Biden will sign the legislation, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. She called on House Republicans to “finally do their job and work across the aisle” to pass spending bills that fund the government for the full year.

As expected, averting a shutdown came with hurdles from the lower chamber’s most conservative lawmakers, who sought to block the deal because it continues current spending levels. 

In order to sidestep hard-right GOP lawmakers who have used House procedure to protest their leadership, the extension was passed using a method that requires significant bipartisan support.

"Avoiding a shutdown is very good news for every American," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday. "It's precisely what Americans want to see. Both sides working together ... no chaos, no spectacle, no shutdown."

It's the third government funding extension this Congress has approved – first in September and again in November. That process has been mired in politics: Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was toppled by members of his own party over a bipartisan spending agreement.

Johnson, his successor, passed another extension in November. In an effort to appease right-wing members of his caucus, he pledged not to support another one – until January, when it became clear Congress would not meet the existing deadline.

Johnson earlier this month agreed to a deal similar to the one McCarthy pushed, only to face immediate blowback from members of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of right-wing members who have challenged both speakers' grip on power. Last week, it appeared Johnson might pull out of the agreement under their pressure, but he agreed to stay the course.