WASHINGTON — The threat of a federal government shutdown was suddenly easing Saturday after the House quickly approved a temporary funding bill to keep agencies open, once Speaker Kevin McCarthy dropped demands for steep spending cuts and relied on Democratic votes for passage.
The rushed package would leave behind aid to Ukraine, a White House priority opposed by a growing number of GOP lawmakers, but increase federal disaster assistance by $16 billion, meeting President Joe Biden’s full request. The bill would fund government until Nov. 17.
It goes next to the Senate, which was meeting late in the evening, hours to go before the midnight deadline to fund the government.
“We’re going to do our job,” McCarthy said before the House vote. “We’re going to be adults in the room. And we’re going to keep government open.”
It’s been a head-spinning turn of events in Congress after days of House chaos pushed the government to the brink of a disruptive federal shutdown.
With no deal in place before Sunday, federal workers would face furloughs, more than 2 million active-duty and reserve military troops would work without pay and programs and services that Americans rely on from coast to coast would begin to face shutdown disruptions.
The House measure would fund government at current 2023 levels, until Nov. 17, setting up another potential crisis if they fail to more fully fund government by then. The package was approved by the House 335-91, with most Republicans and almost all Democrats supporting.
But the loss of Ukraine aid was devastating for lawmakers of both parties vowing to support President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after his recent Washington visit. The Senate bill included $6 billion for Ukraine, and both chambers came to a standstill Saturday as lawmakers assessed their options.
“The American people deserve better,” said House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, warning in a lengthy floor speech that “extreme” Republicans were risking a shutdown.
For the House package to be approved, McCarthy, R-Calif., was forced to rely on Democrats because the speaker’s hard-right flank has said it will oppose any short-term funding measure, denying him the votes needed from his slim majority. It’s a move that risks his job amid calls for his ouster.
After leaving his right-flank behind, McCarthy is almost certain to be facing a motion to try to remove from office, though it is not at all certain there would be enough votes to topple the speaker. Most Republicans voted for the package Saturday while 90 opposed.
“If somebody wants to remove me because I want to be the adult in the room, go ahead and try,” McCarthy said of the threat to oust him. “But I think this country is too important.”
The White House was tracking the developments on Capitol Hill and aides were briefing the president, who was spending the weekend in Washington.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who has championed Ukraine aid despite resistance from his own ranks, is expected to keep pursuing U.S. support for Kyiv in the fight against Russia.
The House’s quick pivot comes after the collapse Friday of McCarthy’s earlier plan to pass a Republican-only bill with steep spending cuts up to 30% to most government agencies that the White House and Democrats rejected as too extreme.
“Our options are slipping away every minute,” said one senior Republican, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida.
The federal government was heading straight into a shutdown that poses grave uncertainty for federal workers in states all across America and the people who depend on them – from troops to border control agents to office workers, scientists and others.
Families that rely on Head Start for children, food benefits and countless other programs large and small are confronting potential interruptions or outright closures. At the airports, Transportation Security Administration officers and air traffic controllers are expected to work without pay, but travelers could face delays in updating their U.S. passports or other travel documents.
An earlier McCarthy plan to keep the government open collapsed Friday due to opposition from a faction of 21 hard-right holdouts despite steep spending cuts of nearly 30% to many agencies and severe border security provisions.
The White House has brushed aside McCarthy’s overtures to meet with Biden after the speaker walked away from the debt deal they brokered earlier this year that set budget levels.
Catering to his hard-right flank, McCarthy had made multiple concessions including returning to the spending limits the conservatives demanded back in January as part of the deal-making to help him become the House speaker.
But it was not enough as the right flank insisted the House follow regular rules, and debate and approve each of the 12 separate spending bills needed to fund the government agencies, typically a months-long process.
McCarthy’s chief Republican critic, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, has warned he will file a motion calling a vote to oust the speaker.
Some of the Republican holdouts, including Gaetz, are allies of former President Donald Trump, who is Biden’s chief rival in the 2024 race. Trump has been encouraging the Republicans to fight hard for their priorities and even to “shut it down.”
At an early closed-door meeting at the Capitol, several House Republicans, particularly those facing tough reelections next year, urged their colleagues to find a way to prevent a shutdown.
“All of us have a responsibility to lead and to govern,” said Republican Rep. Mike Lawler of New York.
The lone House Democrat to vote against the package, Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois, the co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus, called it a victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin and “Putin-sympathizers everywhere.” He said, “Protecting Ukraine is in our national interest.”
Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.
Quigley’s full statement:
Today, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05), Co-Chair of the Congressional Ukrain Caucus, released the following statement after voting no on a Republican short-term spending bill that fails to fund the government for a full fiscal year or provide Ukraine with the funding they need:
“This bill is a victory for Putin and Putin-sympathizers everywhere. We now have 45 days to correct this grave mistake. I had a responsibility to my constituents to voice my opposition to this decision and raise concerns now, before Russia-friendly Republicans dig in their heels or claim victory in the next funding agreement.
“The fight in Ukraine is our fight and anyone who tries to argue that a choice must be made between Ukraine and the American people is presenting a false dilemma. Protecting Ukraine is in our national interest.”