Shutdown of US government averted with temporary spending measure

U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California).

A shutdown of the U.S. federal government was narrowly avoided with a last-minute spending measure passed by Congress.

The stopgap spending bill was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and signed by U.S. President Joe Biden just hours before the 1 October deadline to avoid a shutdown.

The federal government entered a partial shutdown last week after Congress failed to pass new funding that would keep the government running beyond fiscal year 2023, which ended Saturday night. But in a reversal, U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California) introduced a bill that spurned demands from the far right of his party and gained support from House Democrats. The bill passed on a 335-91 vote, with more Democrats than Republicans supporting it. The legislation passed the Senate by an 88-9 margin, and Biden signed the bill soon after.

“Tonight, bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate voted to keep the government open, preventing an unnecessary crisis that would have inflicted needless pain on millions of hardworking Americans,” Biden said in a statement.

The measure will keep the government open only through 17 November, setting up a continuation of the budget fight over the coming weeks, according to CNN. Failure on an agreement would have significant impacts on the government’s capacity to manage the nation’s fisheries and enforce regulations brought on by furloughs for a broad swathe federal workers and the suspension or disruption of government programs, such as WIC assistance, that would have an indirect impact on the seafood industry.

If a shutdown happens in November, the U.S. Department of Commerce would likely furlough all but 8,301 of its roughly 52,000 employees, according to a shutdown plan released last week. According to the department’s plans, NOAA Fisheries would “focus on law enforcement; seafood inspection and other functions funded by other than current annually appropriated funds; maintenance of laboratories, aquaria, and experiments, and other functions related to protected species and other marine resources required to protect life and property” during the shutdown.

The agency would continue to deploy observers in fisheries where they’re required. It would also continue monitoring fisheries landings and making adjustments to fishery closures as necessary.

NOAA’s National Ocean Service would still provide critical nautical chart updates, emergency hydrographic surveys and other data to help maintain safe navigation for vessels in the U.S. exclusive economic zone. The National Weather Service will also continue to generate forecasts, warnings, and other weather data.

As previously reported by SeafoodSource, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would continue to conduct inspections of import entries to determine potential risks to human health, even with 81 percent of its employees on furlough during a shutdown. The agency declined to share whether seafood inspection activities would be impacted at all by the shutdown. In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would not be able to carry out any programmed inspections, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“The Food and Drug Administration could be forced to delay food safety inspections for seafood, meats, fruits vegetables, and other products putting extra pressure on restaurants and grocers,” U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said in a statement prior to the stopgap agreement.

Prior to the agreement, environmental non-governmental organization Oceana criticized Congress for its inaction, claiming that a shutdown would put oceans at risk.

“Congress needs to do its job and pass a budget that keeps critical protections for our oceans in place,” Oceana Vice President for the United States Beth Lowell said in a statement. “Each day of the government shutdown means existing programs that keep our oceans healthy disappear. It also means delays to upcoming protections like NOAA’s updated Vessel Speed Rule to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales from deadly boat strikes.”

Lowell also criticized lawmakers for prioritizing politics over protecting oceans.

“Extreme members in the House of Representatives are proposing drastic budget cuts that would eviscerate essential protections for our oceans,” Lowell said. “We can’t continue to put critical safeguards for our oceans on the line because of political showboating and finger-pointing. The United States depends on healthy, abundant oceans. We cannot afford to let our oceans be a lost chess piece in the game of politics – there’s too much at stake. Congress must prevent irreversible damage to our oceans by passing a budget to get existing programs back online, while also avoiding harmful proposals and draconian funding cuts to needed protections for our oceans and for those who rely on them.”

In a 30 September statement, Biden said he hoped the government remained open and functioning.

"I just signed a law to keep the government open for 47 days. There’s plenty of time to pass government funding bills for the next fiscal year, and I strongly urge Congress to get to work right away," he said. "The American people expect their government to work. Let’s make sure it does."

Photo courtesy of Consolidated News Photos


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