WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate voted on Thursday to take up a stopgap funding bill to keep the federal government operating through Dec. 11, paving the way for final passage that would avoid a government shutdown next week.
But work on the measure appeared unlikely to finish before the deadline next Wednesday, after Democrats used procedural rules to extend the debate as part of their protests over Republicans' rushing to fill a Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week.
With government funding running out next Wednesday, the legislation would continue funding most programs at current levels, and thus avoid a government shutdown in the middle of a pandemic and ahead of the Nov. 3 U.S. election.
The Republican-controlled Senate voted 93-2 to open debate on the measure. Senator John Thune, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, said the vote on final passage was expected next Wednesday.
Thune said the Senate could have finished work on the bill this week but that Democrats insisted on delay.
"They’re trying to throw a wrench into anything that we do. I mean, this is obviously ... retribution for the decision on the court," Thune said. "It doesn't make sense to me either to bring everybody back next week, when we could finish this today."
A Democratic leadership aide acknowledged Democrats were using the "tools at our disposal" to stretch out the process on the funding bill. But he said Democrats would also "ensure the government will not shut down."
The Democratic-led House of Representatives passed the temporary spending bill on Tuesday after Democrats struck a deal with the White House and Republicans on farmers' aid and nutritional assistance for children.
The rest of the bill generally maintains current spending levels and gives lawmakers more time to work out spending through September 2021, including for military operations, healthcare, national parks, space programs, and airport and border security.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Paul Simao and Peter Cooney)