Government shutdown narrowly averted as Senate backs McCarthy deal with Democrats

Concerns persist about a lack of funding to support Ukraine in the 45-day stopgap spending bill

Eric Garcia,John Bowden,Andrew Feinberg
Sunday 01 October 2023 02:39 BST
House votes to fund government for further 45 days

The Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve a stopgap bill to fund government operations for the next 45 days with three and a half hours to go until a midnight deadline at the end of fiscal year, ending a days-long standoff which had threatened to paralyse federal agencies and leave millions of workers without paychecks.

The upper chamber approved the measure, known as a continuing resolution, by a vote of 88 senators In favour and just nine against at 9.04 pm, only hours after the House of Representatives approved an identical bill put forth by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Speaking on the Senate floor just before senators began voting, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the compromise bill would “keep the government open” and represented “good news for the country”.

“Bipartisanship, which has been the trademark of the Senate, has prevailed, and the American people can breathe a sigh of relief,” he said. “The bipartisanship here in the Senate set the tone for today’s result, and I hope it sets the tone for the future”.

His Republican counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said the temporary spending bill will give senators “time to continue a number of important discussions about outstanding priorities,” including “securing supplemental relief for victims of natural disasters,” “restoring security and sanity at the southern border,” and “supplying Ukraine with even more of the lethal assistance it needs to repel Russia’s invasion”.

Mr McConnell said most GOP senators “remain committed to helping our friends on the front lines” in Ukraine “through investing more heavily in American strength”. 

“It reinforces our allies and deters our top strategic adversary, China,” he said, adding that he is “confident” that the upper chamber will approve “further urgent assistance to Ukraine later this year”

It is expected that President Joe Biden will sign the legislation before 12.01 am on Sunday, averting a lapse in appropriations that would have resulted in the entire US government having to shut down non-essential operations.

His signature will allow lawmakers a brief respite, during which they will have to craft appropriations bills to keep the US government operating for the entire 2024 fiscal year, as well as debate and approve supplemental a spending bill to continue funding Ukraine’s defence against Russia.

In a statement, Mr Biden said the “bipartisan majorities” who voted to fund the government had prevented “an unnecessary crisis that would have inflicted needless pain on millions of hardworking Americans”.

“This bill ensures that active-duty troops will continue to get paid, travelers will be spared airport delays, millions of women and children will continue to have access to vital nutrition assistance, and so much more. This is good news for the American people,” he said.

But the president stressed that the government “should never have been in this position in the first place” because the budget agreement Mr McCarthy, the White House and Senate leaders had reached earlier this year had been meant “to avoid precisely this type of manufactured crisis” and slammed “extreme House Republicans” for trying to “walk away from that deal by demanding drastic cuts that would have been devastating for millions of Americans”.

“They failed,” he said.

But Mr Biden added that he “fully expect[s]” that Mr McCarthy honour his commitment to allow voting on supplemental funding for Ukraine’s defence, which he said “cannot under any circumstances” be interrupted.

“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,” he said.

Kevin McCarthy will be expected to honour his commitment on Ukraine funding after it dropped out of the bill, President Biden said
Kevin McCarthy will be expected to honour his commitment on Ukraine funding after it dropped out of the bill, President Biden said (Getty Images)

The tensions which led to the funding impasse, including opposition to funding Ukraine by a small number of Republicans and a desire among a hard-right faction of the GOP to enact sweeping spending cuts and bake harsh immigration policies into must-pass budget bills, still remain and will undoubtedly cause tensions as lawmakers work on full-year spending bills.

But the last-minute deal, which keeps over a million civilian federal workers and two million uniformed service members from being furloughed or forced to work without pay, is a sign that a strong bipartisan coalition has rejected the demands of the farthest-right reaches of the House Republican Conference.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, told reporters outside the Senate chamber that he and his colleagues were “all in favor of more resources for border security,” but stressed that both border security and immigration legislation needed to be written on a bipartisan basis.

He also said senators would be “redoubling our efforts to to preserve and expand the bipartisan coalition” that has formed to support continued US defence assistance to Ukraine.

“I've traveled with Republicans to Ukraine, and they are as passionate as I am about our national security interests there,” he said.

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, whose last-minute objections over the lack of defence aid to Kyiv had threatened to scuttle the11th-hour compromise, told reporters that it is “really, really important” for the US to “send a signal to the world that we're going to continue to work in a bipartisan way to get Ukraine the funds”.

He said the Ukrainian cause is personal to him because his mother had been born in Warsaw, Poland in 1938, just one year before Nazi Germany touched off the Second World War by invading.

“I know how important moments are like this for the United States to lead the rest of the world,” he said.

Another top Democrat, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, told The Independent that he is looking forward to seeing Ukraine funding considered “in the very near future” and said there is “widespread support” in Congress for more assistance to Kyiv.

Speaking just after he voted on the Senate floor, Utah Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican, told reporters he would have preferred to approve supplemental funds for Kyiv in the continuing resolution.

But Mr Romney said a future supplemental appropriations bill would be brought up to provide “substantial assistance” for Ukraine’s defence — enough to last the entire fiscal year — as well as additional funds for border security and relief for numerous areas in the US that have suffered natural disasters in recent months.

The beginning of the end of the crisis came about earlier in the day when 335 House members — all but 91 Republicans — voted to advance the GOP-authored spending bill, and after a brief delay when one senator — Mr Bennet — expressed reservations about the temporary spending bill’s lack of aid to Ukraine.

The Senate’s late-night vote was the final culmination of a weeks-long battle that had started in the House, where a small number of right-wingers paralysed the chamber’s efforts to craft bills to fund the government after 1 October.

It ended in a humiliating defeat for the far right holdouts who had opposed any short-term funding measure, as well as the GOP caucus overall.

Matt Gaetz is expected to bring a motion to remove McCarthy from his post
Matt Gaetz is expected to bring a motion to remove McCarthy from his post (Getty Images)

Democrats spent the afternoon cheering the dissolution of their rivals’ resistance in the waning hours of the fight.

“What we have seen is that no spending bills will happen without Democratic support,” House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries told reporters.

But far-right lawmakers who had opposed the resolution warned that the embattled speaker of the House would face a reckoning.

The ringleader of the holdouts, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, is understood to be planning to bring a parliamentary motion to remove Mr McCarthy from his post as Speaker as punishment for the Californian’s decision to allow a spending bill to pass with the aid of Democrats.

“I’ve said that whether or not Kevin McCarthy faces a motion to vacate is entirely within his control, because all he had to do was comply with the agreement that he made with us in January,” he said earlier on Saturday when asked whether he’d push to oust the Speaker.

“Putting this bill on the floor and passing it with Democrats would be such an obvious blatant and clear violation of that. We would have to deal with it,” he added.

Though Mr Gaetz and others had pushed for their partisan spending bills to be the only vehicle to fund the government for the 2024 fiscal year, the bills would have been non-starters in the Democratic-controlled Senate and would have never been signed by Mr Biden.

Mr Schumer, the Senate Majority Leader, said the victory for Democrats was made possible by the upper chamber’s commitment to bipartisanship which had “showed the House” that they “had to act” on a “clean” continuing resolution.

“We will keep the government open for 45 days with a clean CR at current funding levels, and we avoided all of the extreme, nasty, and harmful cuts MAGA Republicans wanted, he said. “No 30 per cent cuts across the board. No 30 per cent cuts to things like health care, to the social security administration, to the nutrition programs for kids. Full reauthorization of the FAA until December 31, and the poison pill amendments of which there were scores, Maga-inspired riders, were all removed from the bill. After trying to take our government hostage, Maga Republicans won nothing”.

He added that it was “good” that Mr McCarthy had “finally heeded our message that bipartisanship was and is and remains the only way”.

“Today, Maga extremists have failed. Bipartisanship has prevailed. And both parties have come together to avert a shutdown,” he said.

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