WASHINGTON – Three lawmakers walked into the House of Representatives and did something that has proven quite a challenge for Congress this year: They agreed to fund the government.
Without bluster or brinkmanship or bleary-eyed midnight rancor, two Republicans and one Democrat engaged Thursday in a very civilized moment of legislating. It was over in a matter of minutes.
Congress gave final approval to a stopgap measure to keep the government running for a few days and replenish disaster aid, ending for now a partisan war that risked shutting down the government. The Senate passed the legislation earlier this week.
Granted, Thursday’s vote was essentially procedural, a final stamp of approval. Party leaders had agreed to the measure after a prolonged impasse and rough negotiations. With Congress already on recess for the Rosh Hashana holiday, just a few lawmakers were needed to make it official.
But conclusions are rarely foregone in this hyperpartisan era in Washington. Even an incremental measure like this one, to fund the government for four days, required the unanimous consent of those present. If even one lawmaker rose to object, it would fail.
And so onlookers filed into the House gallery just to be sure.
Freshman Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., took the presiding officer’s chair. He called on fellow Republican Rep. John Culberson of Texas, who introduced the measure.
Seeing no objection, it was passed.
Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland saluted his colleagues, then crossed the aisle to shake their hands. Culberson saluted him back.
Don’t expect a repeat of this kind of comity anytime soon.
The stopgap measure funds the government only from the start of the fiscal year, which is Saturday, until Tuesday.
Then the House will engage in budget battles anew, as it considers a broader Senate-passed bill that would keep the government running through Nov. 18.
Conservative Republicans are reigniting their call for spending cuts. Democrats will try to hold to the level of expenditures both sides already agreed to during the summer debt-ceiling deal.
Failure to pass the next bill, with a vote expected Tuesday, could again raise the specter of a government shutdown.