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 on 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 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 US 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 no 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 favour 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 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, 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 clamouring 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.”