Congress Narrowly Averts Shutdown and Passes Stopgap Bill

Congress narrowly averted a government shutdown on Saturday as the House, in a stunning turnabout, approved a stopgap plan to keep the federal government open until mid-November. After Senate passage, President Biden signed the bill shortly before midnight.

In a rapid-fire sequence of events on Capitol Hill, a coalition of House Democrats and Republicans voted to pass a plan that would keep money flowing to government agencies and provide billions of dollars for disaster recovery efforts. The bill did not include money for Ukraine despite a push for it by the White House and members of both parties in the Senate, but House Democrats embraced the plan anyway, seeing it as the most expedient way to avoid widespread government disruption.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who had for weeks brushed off demands to work with Democrats on a spending solution, outlined the proposal for Republicans in a closed-door meeting Saturday morning and then rushed to get it on the floor under a special procedure that meant it could only pass with substantial Democratic help.

Democrats initially complained that Mr. McCarthy had sprung the plan on them and was trying to push through a 71-page measure without sufficient scrutiny. But they also did not want to be accused of putting the U.S. aid to Ukraine ahead of keeping government agencies open and paying two million members of the military and 1.5 million federal employees.

“Are you telling me you would shut down the government if there is not Ukraine funding?” Representative Mike Lawler, Republican of New York, asked Democrats on the House floor.

Ultimately, it was scores of his own Republican colleagues who voted to shut down the government. The measure was approved on a vote of 335 to 91, with 209 Democrats and 126 Republicans voting in favor and 90 Republicans and one Democrat in opposition.

The outcome was similar to a vote earlier this year to suspend the federal debt limit, and it could pose difficulties for Mr. McCarthy, a California Republican, as a far-right faction had threatened to try to oust him from the speakership if he worked with Democrats to keep the government open.

But after a failed effort on Friday to win enough Republican votes to avoid a shutdown, Mr. McCarthy was out of choices if he wanted to prevent a politically and economically damaging shutdown. He put the bill on the floor without certainty it could pass.

“I like to gamble,” he said.

The House adjourned immediately after the vote, leaving the Senate to either take up the legislation or face blame for a shutdown, since there was no way for the House to consider additional legislation before Monday.

With little alternative, and Senate Republicans clamoring for the House bill, the Senate jettisoned its own stopgap measure that contained $6 billion for Ukraine and approved the House version on an 88 to 9 vote.

“The American people can breathe a sigh of relief: there will be no government shutdown,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, after the Senate vote closed about three hours before the deadline. “After trying to take our government hostage, MAGA Republicans won nothing.”

In a statement after Senate passage of the bill, Mr. Biden called it “good news for the American people.” He added, “I fully expect the speaker will keep his commitment to the people of Ukraine and secure passage of the support needed to help Ukraine at this critical moment.”

Members of both parties said they were confident they could win money for Ukraine in the weeks ahead, but the failure to provide any money in the bill was a reflection of diminishing Republican backing for added funding for Kyiv.

It pointed to a potentially nasty fight ahead over funding Ukraine’s war effort, coming on the heels of a visit by President Volodymyr Zelensky to Washington last month to make the case for continued U.S. support. Congress has approved about $113 billion in military, humanitarian and economic aid in four packages since the invasion by Russia, and Mr. Biden has requested another $24 billion.

“This bill is a victory for Putin and Putin sympathizers everywhere,” said Representative Mike Quigley of Illinois, the only Democrat to vote against the bill, who said he did so because it did not include aid to Ukraine. “We now have 45 days to correct this grave mistake.”

Hard-right Republicans refused to support the stopgap bill, known as a continuing resolution, because it essentially maintained funding at levels set when Congress was under Democratic control last year.

“Instead of siding with his own party today, Kevin McCarthy sided with 209 Democrats to push through a continuing resolution that maintains the Biden-Pelosi-Schumer spending levels and policies,” Representative Andy Biggs, Republican of Arizona, wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “He allowed the D.C. Uniparty to win again. Should he remain speaker of the House?”

A much larger contingent of Republicans also refused to back the measure, which also left out severe immigration restrictions many of them had demanded.

Before the vote, Mr. McCarthy said he recognized that the legislation might spark a challenge to his job but said he was willing to risk it to push a bill through that would keep the government open.

Representative Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican who has threatened to try and oust Mr. McCarthy, was not willing to reveal his timing. He said, however, that Mr. McCarthy’s speakership was “on tenuous ground.”

In the end, Democrats celebrated the outcome. “Extreme MAGA Republicans have lost,” Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic leader, said as he walked to the House floor to vote in favor of the bill. “The American people have won.”

The day on Capitol Hill was full of twists and turns. As House Democrats stalled Mr. McCarthy’s plan on the floor to allow time to study it, fire alarms rang out in the Cannon House Office Building, forcing its evacuation. It was later determined that Representative Jamaal Bowman, Democrat of New York, had triggered the alarm, though he claimed it was inadvertent.

“It was like riding a mechanical bull all week,” said Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the No. 3 House Republican.

Despite the intense effort involved, the stopgap bill is only a temporary solution to the spending fight, which is likely to be quickly rekindled. The House and Senate are both struggling to approve yearlong spending bills and House Republicans have canceled an October break to focus on the spending legislation.

The gulf on spending between the two parties — and the two chambers — remains vast.

House Republicans are demanding deep spending cuts, a cutoff of aid to Ukraine and immigration restrictions amid a wave of asylum seekers streaming across the southern border as the price of any agreement. Senators of both parties argue that Congress should adhere to higher funding levels established in a deal that President Biden negotiated with Mr. McCarthy earlier this year, and they back continued assistance to Ukraine.

Before the sudden turn of events on Saturday, federal agencies were bracing to close if no stopgap were enacted. The armed forces and other so-called essential workers such as air traffic controllers and airport security workers would have remained on the job but without pay until the standoff was resolved. Food and medical assistance to millions of low-income mothers and children would have been in jeopardy.

The biggest obstacle to a resolution was that the House, where Republicans hold a tiny minority, is in the grips of a right-wing faction that has made it clear it is willing — perhaps even eager — for a shutdown to drive home its message that Washington is broken and federal spending is out of control. That bloc refused to back any plan that would even temporarily avert a lapse in federal funding.

Facing a choice between a shutdown and the far-right, Mr. McCarthy again relied on Democrats to dodge a crisis.

“What I am asking, Republicans and Democrats alike, put your partisanship away,” Mr. McCarthy said before the House vote. “Focus on the American public.”

Kayla Guo and Katie Rogers contributed reporting.

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