Shutdown Averted: Congress Approves Nov. 17 Funding Fix

Buttigieg Cites Maintaining Strength of Aviation Workforce
Capitol Agenda Eugene Mulero

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On the Wednesday before Congress cleared for the president a temporary funding measure, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made the case for keeping the government operating.

It wasn’t only about ensuring the safety of the transportation system; the secretary argued it was about maintaining the strength of an aviation workforce in this post-pandemic era.

“After everything that we have been through. After all of the disruptions to air travel, especially the ones that we saw last year, we have finally seen cancellations and delays get back down to normal levels. In fact, we’ve seen cancellations go to a level now that is lower than it was before the pandemic,” the secretary explained during a news conference Sept. 27 from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“A shutdown would stop all of that progress,” he continued. “It would mean we would immediately have to stop training new air traffic controllers and furlough another 1,000 controllers who are already in the training pipeline.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg spoke at a news conference at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on Sept. 1 (Taylor Glasscock/Bloomberg News)

Buttigieg’s warning, along with those from the White House as well as moderate Republicans and Democrats appears to have persuaded a majority in Congress to avert a partial government shutdown.

On Saturday night, as they stared at the Oct. 1 funding deadline, bipartisanship prevailed on Capitol Hill with the House and Senate sending President Joe Biden a continuing funding resolution. Good through Nov. 17, the measure, already enacted into law, provides congressional leaders more than a month to finalize negotiations on budgetary affairs. The short-term bill guarantees this will be the autumn of budget negotiations.

“Tens of thousands of air traffic controllers and transportation security officers are going to stay on the job, get paid — preventing unnecessary delays at airports all across America,” Biden said Oct. 1.

“As we pass short-term [continuing resolution],” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said over the weekend, “we need to make progress to begin conferencing our spending bills with the House to avoid another [continuing resolution] or an omnibus at the end of the year, which I know many of my colleagues are focused on avoiding.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the panel’s ranking member


An omnibus is a multibill legislative funding package.

“And if we’re going to get any of that done, it has to be bipartisan. It is going to involve us being serious and focused on getting our job done to have real results for the American people,” she added. “If there is one lesson for House Republicans to take from the absolute chaos they have caused this past week, it is that partisanship is not a path forward — it’s a path to chaos.”

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), facing pushback from about a dozen members of his caucus, was the architect of the shutdown-averting measure. Soon after the chamber’s last-minute action, the speaker took aim at his Senate counterparts.

“The Senate has not passed one appropriation bill. Each body is supposed to pass 12. We’ve passed more than 70% of the discretionary spending already,” the Republican leader told CBS News on Oct. 1.

The Senate has not passed one appropriation bill. Each body is supposed to pass 12. We’ve passed more than 70% of the discretionary spending already.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)

Rep. Kevin McCarthy

Although Congress probably surprised many over the weekend by passing the funding stopgap measure, it continues to remain uncertain whether lawmakers can eventually pass their fiscal 2024 funding bills before Nov. 17. Political intrigue will soon dominate debate on Capitol Hill.

The Week Ahead (all times Eastern)

Oct. 4, 2 p.m.: The Senate Commerce committee meets for a hearing titled “CHIPS and Science Implementation and Oversight.” Witnesses include Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

Oct. 5, 10 a.m.: The Senate Commerce Committee meets with Michael Whitaker, nominee to be administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. Watch the hearing here. 

Freight Corridor

Like politics, all infrastructure is local.

Legislative Docket

A group of senators is renewing calls for a floor vote on legislation meant to improve safety across freight rail networks. Several months after the chamber’s Commerce Committee advanced the comprehensive bipartisan bill, panel Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) is again leading a push to advance the measure through Congress.

Maria Cantwell


In a recent resolution endorsed by her colleagues, the chairwoman indicated: “The Feb. 3, 2023, Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which resulted in the burning of [six] vinyl chloride tank cars and forced the evacuation of approximately 2,000 nearby residents, was a reminder of the risks posed by hazardous materials transportation. Class I freight railroads had the highest derailment rate in the past decade … more than 43,000 rail workers have been injured.”

The committee-passed Railway Safety Act, meant to promote the safe transport of freight along rail lines nationwide, targets policies at multiple agencies, such as the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The bill, which received bipartisan support, would mandate the use of certain defect-detection technology and ensure state agencies are equipped with additional information about the type of hazardous materials transported by rail.


Michael Whitaker, an aviation expert with Washington experience, said he would move to advance safety initiatives at the Federal Aviation Administration. The agency has raised concerns in transportation circles for recent high-profile delays and technical mishaps.

President Joe Biden and Secretary Pete Buttigieg have expressed optimism about Whitaker’s qualifications for improving operations at the agency. Responding to a recent questionnaire from senators, the nominee indicated if confirmed, “I will bring my previous experience of leading the 47,000 dedicated employees at the FAA to ensure the FAA stays focused on safety and properly prioritizes modernization efforts of the national airspace.

“I will rely on my three-plus decades of executive experience in aviation and aerospace organizations to provide leadership with appropriate management and financial controls over the budgets, operations and program management of the agency.”

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Meanwhile, in MAGA Nation …

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And for her final act: A vote.

The Last Word

If, at this time next week, Kevin McCarthy is still speaker of the House, it will be because the Democrats bailed him out. 

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) on Oct. 1.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.)

We publish Mondays when Congress is in session. See previous installments of Capitol Agenda here. Email with tips. Follow us @eugenemulero and @transporttopics.

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