Home Part of States Newsroom
U.S. Senate debates spending package overnight as funding lapse begins


U.S. Senate debates spending package overnight as funding lapse begins

Mar 23, 2024 | 12:17 am ET
By Jennifer Shutt
U.S. Senate debates spending package overnight as funding lapse begins
The U.S. Capitol on a winter night, as smoke rises from fireplaces. (Photo by Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)

WASHINGTON — Dozens of federal departments and agencies began a funding lapse early Saturday after the U.S. Senate failed to approve a $1.2 trillion government spending package ahead of a Friday midnight deadline. 

The stalemate affected major federal departments — Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Labor, State and Treasury. 

It also included numerous smaller entities that no longer have approved government funding, including Congress, the Executive Office of the President, the judiciary and the Social Security Administration. 

The brief pause in official appropriations isn’t likely to have much effect, though, given that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer set up votes on nine GOP proposals to the package just before midnight.

That will be followed by a final passage vote, but since the Senate often takes at least 15 minutes to hold one vote, it was expected to be a few hours before the bill cleared that chamber. President Joe Biden is expected to sign it into law.

“It’s been a very long and difficult day, but we have just reached an agreement to complete the job of funding the government,” Schumer, a New York Democrat, said. 

The White House said in a statement early Saturday: “OMB has ceased shutdown preparations because there is a high degree of confidence that Congress will imminently pass the relevant appropriations and the President will sign the bill on Saturday. Because obligations of federal funds are incurred and tracked on a daily basis, agencies will not shut down and may continue their normal operations.”

Wrapping up work on the 1,012-page spending package before Monday morning would mean relatively minor effects on the employees and programs within the six spending bills in the measure. 

But those repercussions would have begun to increase in number and scope the longer the Senate went without approving the bill, and the executive branch would have had to begin shutting down many operations and sending non-exempt federal employees home. 

The funding lapse wouldn’t have affected any federal activities involving “the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

Votes on amendments sought

The Senate’s inability to pass the legislation on time came down to its complicated procedures that often require weeks to move a bill. Without the approval of all 100 senators, there was no way for that chamber’s leaders to call the bill up for final passage on Friday evening. 

Several conservative GOP senators had withheld their consent in order to secure votes on amendments to the package. 

Making any changes to the bill, however, would require it to go back to the U.S. House for approval, a challenging task given the time crunch and the fact that chamber had already left for a two-week recess. 

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, posted on social media before the votes that he believed any funding lapse would be the result of Democratic leaders not allowing GOP amendment votes. 

“Taking a handful of votes on proposals that are related to this massive spending bill is not too much to ask,” Thune wrote. “So make no mistake, if the government shuts down, it will be because of one thing and one thing only: Democrat leaders protecting vulnerable incumbents from taking hard votes.”

The U.S. House voted 286-134 on Friday morning to approve the spending package that holds the final six government funding bills for the fiscal year that began back on Oct. 1. 

Congress approved the other six spending bills in mid-March, after relying on a string of short-term stopgap spending measures to hold off a government shutdown while members waded through negotiations on spending levels and policy. 

A brief history of shutdowns, ‘funding gaps’

The federal government has experienced more than a dozen funding lapses in recent decades, including the 34-day partial government shutdown that began in late December 2018 and lasted well into January. 

There was a two-day funding lapse about a year before that in January 2018 and a 16-day government shutdown in October 2013, according to a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. 

The other funding lapses, including the ones that dragged on long enough to warrant federal departments beginning their shutdown procedures, took place before the turn of the century. 

“Although a shutdown may be the result of a funding gap, the two events should be distinguished,” the CRS report explains. “This is because a funding gap may result in a total shutdown of all affected projects or activities in some instances but not others.”

“For example, when funding gaps are of a short duration, agencies may not have enough time to complete a shutdown of affected projects and activities before funding is restored,” the CRS report says. “In addition, the Office of Management and Budget has previously indicated that a shutdown of agency operations within the first day of the funding gap may be postponed if a resolution appears to be imminent.”