Congress managed to prevent a government shutdown with just hours to spare on Saturday, as the Senate approved a temporary spending bill sent by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy with the help of Democratic votes.
The “clean” stopgap bill was sent to President Biden’s desk just before the midnight deadline, putting an end to a week of intense drama on Capitol Hill.
The unexpected turn of events, with McCarthy seeking support from Democrats and facing defections from nearly half of the Republican conference, defied expectations in Washington, where a partial government shutdown was widely anticipated.
The Senate passed the bill to extend current levels of government spending for 45 days in an 88-9 vote.
Only Republicans voted against the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Charles S. Schumer expressed his satisfaction, giving two thumbs up and exclaiming, “we did it!”
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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Well, all is well that ends well. We prevented a government shutdown, which I think is the most important thing.”
The legislation included $16 billion in disaster aid but did not provide the additional funding for Ukraine that President Biden and Democrats desired. Faced with the choice between funding the U.S. government or Ukraine, Democrats in the House and Senate overwhelmingly chose the U.S.
With the continued funding, Congress now has more time to pass full-year spending bills that will fund the government for fiscal year 2024, starting on Sunday.
The House has passed four of the 12 annual spending bills, while the Senate has not passed any. It has become customary for Congress to avoid a shutdown by using stopgap spending and eventually passing a single comprehensive funding bill, known as an omnibus, in Washington jargon.
A group of staunch conservatives in the House Republican Conference vowed to break free from this stopgap-omnibus pattern and opposed any temporary spending, including McCarthy’s bill, which would have reduced spending levels and included stricter immigration and border security provisions.
“If you have members in your conference that won’t let you vote for appropriations … and won’t vote for a stopgap measure, so the only answer is to shut down and not pay our troops, I don’t want to be a part of that team. I want to be a part of the conservative group that wants to get things done,” McCarthy said after the bill passed the House.
Looking ahead, McCarthy has canceled an upcoming recess to give lawmakers more time to work on bills.
If Congress fails to pass full-year appropriations bills by the end of the 45-day extension period, Washington will once again face a scramble to avoid a shutdown.
The reprieve from a shutdown on Saturday means that none of the 2 million federal employees and 1.3 million active-duty service members will be furloughed, travel will not be disrupted at airports, and child care services provided by the federal Head Start Program will continue uninterrupted.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer initially planned to pass a bipartisan stopgap bill in the Senate earlier in the week, bypassing the divided House. However, Sen. Rand Paul obstructed the legislation, which included $6 billion in Ukraine funding, $6 billion in disaster aid, and would have lasted until November 17.
Mr. Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, initially intended to delay the vote until Monday but ultimately allowed McCarthy’s bill to be expedited in the Senate.
A partial government shutdown seemed inevitable after members of McCarthy’s GOP conference dealt a major blow to a stopgap bill that was packed with concessions for conservatives.
The bill was designed to win over as many reluctant votes as possible by including provisions for border security and a 30% cut to domestic spending. However, 21 Republicans voted against it, demanding instead that the remainder of the full-year appropriations bills be passed during the partial shutdown.
McCarthy then went against the staunch conservatives in his conference and brought the clean bill to the floor, stating that he had exhausted all options within his own party and had turned to Democrats for assistance.
The absence of Ukraine funding in the bill was a point of contention for many Democrats.
Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of California criticized the lack of Ukraine funding in the bill that her party nevertheless unanimously supported, stating, “We don’t abandon our allies.”
A bipartisan majority approved the bill with a vote of 335-91, with more Democrats voting in favor than Republicans. While McCarthy succeeded in averting a shutdown, relying on Democrats may come at a cost to his position as speaker.
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a leading member of the arch-conservative faction that opposes any stopgap spending and has been campaigning to oust McCarthy, stated that McCarthy’s hold on the speaker’s position is weak.
“I would say it’s on some tenuous ground,” Gaetz told reporters at the Capitol. “Right now, our plan is to continue to gain support for our single-subject spending bills. This 45-day bill does not resolve our nation’s financial challenges. We remain $33 trillion in debt, facing $2.2 trillion annual deficits.”
However, McCarthy appeared unfazed by the plans to remove him from his position, telling Gaetz and any other lawmakers seeking to challenge him, “bring it on.”