Congress managed to stop a government shutdown with just hours to spare on Saturday, with the Senate giving final approval to a temporary spending bill sent over by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy with the help of Democratic votes.
The “clear” stopgap bill headed to President Biden’s desk hours before a midnight shutdown deadline, ending a week of high drama on Capitol Hill.
The sudden turn of events — with Mr. McCarthy turning to Democrats and suffering defections from nearly half of the Republican conference — defied expectations in Washington where just about everybody was bracing for a partial shuttering of the federal government.
The bill to extend current levels of government spending for 45 days passed the Senate in a 88-9 vote.
Only Republicans voted against the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Charles S. Schumer was all smiles, giving two thumbs up and proclaiming “we did it!”
SEE ALSO: House passes temporary spending bill to avoid midnight shutdown, bill heads to Senate
“Well, all is well that ends well,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “We prevented a government shutdown, which I think is the most important thing.”
The legislation included $16 billion in disaster aid but not the extra funding for Ukraine that President Biden and Democrats wanted. Faced with a choice of funding the U.S. government or Ukraine, Democrats in the House and Senate overwhelmingly picked the U.S.
The continued funding now gives Congress more time to pass full-year spending bills that will fund the government for fiscal 2024, which begins Sunday.
The House has advanced four of the 12 annual spending bills. The Senate has not passed any. It has become routine for Congress to avert a shutdown with stopgap spending and eventually pass a single massive funding bill known in Washington jargon as an omnibus.
A faction of hardline conservatives in the House Republican Conference vowed to break that stopgap-omnibus pattern and opposed any temporary spending, including Mr. McCarthy’s legislation that would have slashed spending levels and included tougher 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,” Mr. McCarthy said after the bill passed the House.
Moving forward, Mr. McCarthy has canceled an upcoming recess to allow lawmakers more time to move bills.
If Congress cannot pass full-year appropriations bills by the end of the 45-day overtime period, Washington will once again face a shutdown scramble.
Saturday’s shutdown reprieve, however, means none of the 2 million federal employees and 1.3 million active-duty service members will get furloughed, travel will not get bogged down at airports and child care service with the federal Head Start Program will not be interrupted.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer had primed the upper chamber to leapfrog the divided House with a bipartisan stopgap bill earlier in the week. But Sen. Rand Paul stood in the way of the legislation, which included $6 billion in Ukraine funding, $6 billion in disaster aid, and would have lasted until Nov. 17.
Mr. Paul, Kentucky Republican, intended to delay the vote until Monday but opted to allow Mr. McCarthy’s bill to be fast-tracked in the upper chamber.
A partial government shutdown appeared inevitable after members of Mr. McCarthy’s GOP conference on Friday dealt a stunning defeat to a stopgap bill chock full of sweeteners for conservatives.
That measure was built to sway as many holdout votes as possible by including border security and a 30% cut to domestic spending, but 21 Republicans crushed the bill. They demanded instead to continue to pass the rest of the full-year appropriations bills during the partial shutdown.
Mr. McCarthy then bucked the arch-conservatives and brought the clean bill to the floor, saying he had exhausted all options in his conference and turned to Democrats for help.
The lack of Ukraine funding in the measure was a sticking point for many Democrats.
Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of California criticized the lack of Ukraine money in the bill that her party nevertheless would unanimously support, declaring: “We don’t abandon our allies.”
A bipartisan majority advanced the bill in a 335-91 vote, with more Democrats voting in favor of the bill than Republicans. Though Mr. McCarthy was successful in his plan to stop a shutdown, the cost of relying on Democrats could be his role as speaker.
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who is a leader of arch-conservative opposing any stopgap spending and who has been crusading to oust Mr. McCarthy, said the speaker’s hold on the gavel is shaky.
“I would say it’s on some tenuous ground,” Mr. Gaetz told reporters at the Capitol. “Right now, our plan is to continue to build support for our single-subject spending bills. This 45-day [bill] does not liberate us from our nation’s financial challenges. We remain $33 trillion in debt. We’re facing $2.2 trillion annual deficits.”
But Mr. McCarthy seemed unconcerned by plans to oust him, telling Mr. Gaetz and any other lawmakers that want to take his gavel to “bring it.”
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