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Biden signs bill averting shutdown, teeing up 2024 budget battle

President Joe Biden speaks at a welcome reception for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative leaders at the Exploratorium, in San Francisco, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. Associated Press

President Joe Biden signed a stopgap bill to extend government funding into early 2024, averting a government shutdown for now but kicking a politically-divisive debate over federal spending into a presidential election year.

The White House confirmed the move in a statement early Friday morning in Washington, less than a day before existing funding would have expired. Biden — in California for a summit of APEC leaders — signed the legislation on Thursday, according to the statement.

Facing that Friday night deadline and with the House under new leadership, Congress passed an interim measure with broad bipartisan majorities earlier this week.

A shutdown threatened to generate widespread political fallout in Washington. The short-term package allows lawmakers to regroup over the Thanksgiving holiday while talks continue on spending and policy agreements.

But the measure sets up bitter ideological fights early next year over federal spending and emergency funding for allies Israel and Ukraine.

That battle already brought the U.S. to the brink of a debt default in the spring, caused Fitch Ratings to downgrade the nation’s sovereign credit rating and cost Kevin McCarthy the House speakership.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the chamber would turn to Israel and Ukraine assistance “immediately” when lawmakers return from Thanksgiving.

The White House initially criticized the stopgap measure, with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre calling it “a recipe for more Republican chaos and more shutdowns.” But Biden came around as Democrats indicated they would not block the proposal to avoid an immediate funding lapse.

The stopgap measure, engineered by Speaker Mike Johnson, funds some government agencies through Jan. 19 and others through Feb. 2 and lacks the Ukraine and Israel aid demanded by Biden, as well as stricter border policies sought by Republicans.

The risk of a partial government shutdown in January is high because the agencies whose funding will lapse then will not trigger some of the most politically dire consequences, like cutting military pay and closing national parks. Those agencies will run out of funds in February.

Johnson adopted the staggered funding deadlines and dropped the emergency aid to appease hard-line conservatives, who were nonetheless furious with his decision to pass a bill without deep spending cuts or changes to immigration law.

The speaker has said he will not support another short-term funding measure. But that has done little to quell conservatives’ anger, indicating Republicans will need to overcome internal divisions as well as disagreements with Democrats to reach an agreement.

Political polarization in Congress and lack of action to address the nation’s fiscal health sparked Moody’s Investors Service to lower the U.S.’s credit-rating outlook from stable to negative, illustrating the stakes for the next budget fight.

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