WASHINGTON — The threat of a federal government shutdown suddenly lifted late Saturday as President Joe Biden signed a 45-day funding bill to keep agencies open with little time to spare after Congress rushed to approve the bipartisan deal.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy dropped demands for steep spending cuts and increased border security and relied on Democratic votes for passage. The package funds government at current 2023 levels until mid-November, and also extends other provisions, including for the Federal Aviation Administration.
The 71-page bill, which will fund the government until Nov. 17, went to the Senate for passage, 88-9 with Republicans Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Mike Braun of Indiana, Ted Cruz of Texas, Bill Haggerty of Tennessee, Mike Lee of Utah, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Eric Schmitt of Missouri and JD Vance voting no.
Not voting were Tim Scott, R-SC, who is running for president, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week.
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 Biden’s full request.
House Democratic leadership said in a statement Saturday that they expect McCarthy to bring a separate Ukraine aid bill to vote when the House returns. The Senate earlier had approved a spending measure with $6 billion for Ukraine.
The statement, signed by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Democratic Whip Katherine Clark, caucus chair Pete Aguilar and vice chair Ted Lieu, said that the House needs to show “renewing support for the valiant Ukrainian effort” by voting on additional Ukraine aid.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell promised further assistance to Ukraine, even though the bill does not include it.
"It has been a day full of twists and turns, but the American people can breathe a sigh of relief: there will be no government shutdown tonight," Schumer said in remarks Saturday on the Senate floor. I want to thank my colleagues here in the Senate, especially our appropriators.
"Our bipartisanship made this bill possible," Schumer said. "We will keep the government open for 45 days with a clean (continuing resolution), at current funding levels."
McConnell said in his remarks before the voters, "With just a few hours to spare, the Senate is now in a position to prevent a harmful and unnecessary government shutdown. Passing this measure, keeping the lights on, will allow us to return our attention to making headway on full-year appropriations our colleagues have been working on, literally for months, and will give us the flexibility to meet urgent supplemental priorities both at home and abroad."
Biden praised bipartisan efforts to keep the government open and funded through November but added that the last-minute scramble by House Republicans was a “manufactured crisis” that could have been avoided months ago.
“Tonight, bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate voted to keep the government open, preventing an unnecessary crisis that would have inflicted needless pain on millions of hardworking Americans,” the president said in a statement Saturday night.
He added: “We should never have been in this position in the first place. Just a few months ago, Speaker McCarthy and I reached a budget agreement to avoid precisely this type of manufactured crisis.”
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 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 American people deserve better," Jeffries of New York, warning in a lengthy floor speech that "extreme" Republicans were risking 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 measure, risking his job amid calls for his ouster. Republicans hold a 221-212 majority, with two vacancies.
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 backed the package Saturday while fewer than half 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."
Late at night, the Senate came to a standstill when Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., held up the vote, seeking assurances Ukraine funds would be reconsidered.
“I know important moments are like this, for the United States, to lead the rest of the world,” Bennet said, noting his mother was born in Poland in 1938 and survived the Holocaust. “We can’t fail.”
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.
A faction of 21 hard-right holdouts opposed the package.
The White House 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 returned to the spending limits the conservatives demanded back in January as part of the deal-making to help him become the House speaker.
Some of the Republican holdouts, including Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, 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.”
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