Threat of government shutdown ends as U.S. Congress passes a temporary funding plan and sends it to Biden

With hours to go before the midnight deadline to fund the government, the Senate was also in for a rare weekend session and prepared to act next.

October 01, 2023 12:44 am | Updated 11:01 am IST - WASHINGTON

The House swiftly approved a 45-day funding bill to keep federal agencies open as Speaker Kevin McCarthy dropped demands for steep spending cuts.

The House swiftly approved a 45-day funding bill to keep federal agencies open as Speaker Kevin McCarthy dropped demands for steep spending cuts. | Photo Credit: AP

The threat of a federal government shutdown ended late Saturday, hours before a midnight deadline, as Congress approved a temporary funding bill to keep agencies open and sent the measure to President Joe Biden to sign.

The rushed package drops aid to Ukraine, a White House priority opposed by a growing number of GOP lawmakers, but increases federal disaster assistance by $16 billion, meeting Biden’s full request. The bill funds government until Nov. 17.

With hours to go before the midnight deadline to fund the government, the Senate was also in for a rare weekend session and prepared to act next.

“We’re going to do our job,” Mr. McCarthy said before the House vote. “We’re going to be adults in the room. And we’re going to keep government open.”

With no deal in place before Sunday, federal workers will face furloughs, more than 2 million active-duty and reserve military troops will work without pay and programs and services that Americans rely on from coast to coast will begin to face shutdown disruptions.

The House measure would fund government at current 2023 levels for 45 days, through Nov. 17, moving closer to the bipartisan approach in the Senate. But the Senate package would have added $6 billion for Ukraine to fight the war against Russia and $6 billion for U.S. disaster relief.

Both chambers came to a standstill as lawmakers assessed their options, some decrying the loss of Ukraine aid.

"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 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.

Also Read | President Biden says shutdown won’t be his fault. Will Americans agree?

After leaving his right-flank behind, Mr. 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,” Mr. McCarthy said of the threat to oust him. “But I think this country is too important.”

The quick pivot comes after the collapse Friday of Mr. 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 is 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 travellers 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, Mr. 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.

After Friday's vote, Mr. McCarthy’s chief Republican critic, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, said the speaker's bill “went down in flames as I’ve told you all week it would.”

Some of the Republican holdouts, including Mr. Gaetz, are allies of former President Donald Trump, who is Mr. Biden's chief rival in the 2024 race. Mr. Trump has been encouraging the Republicans to fight hard for their priorities and even to “shut it down.”

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