WASHINGTON (AP) — The threat of a federal government shutdown was suddenly lifted late Saturday night before the midnight deadline when Congress passed a temporary funding bill to keep agencies open and sent the measure to President Joe Biden to become law occurs.
The rushed package cuts aid to Ukraine, a White House priority opposed by a growing number of Republican lawmakers, but increases federal disaster aid by $16 billion, meeting Biden’s full demand. The bill funds the government until November 17th.
After chaotic days of turmoil in the House, Speaker Kevin McCarthy abruptly abandoned his right-wing flank’s demands for drastic spending cuts and instead relied on Democrats to pass the bill, putting his own job at risk. The Senate followed with final passage, capping a turbulent day at the Capitol.
“This is good news for the American people,” Biden said in a statement.
He also said that the United States “cannot allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted under any circumstances” and expects McCarthy to “remain true to his commitment to the people of Ukraine and ensure the provision of the support needed.” “To help Ukraine at this critical moment.”
There was a sudden, stunning reversal in Congress after grueling days in the House brought the government to the brink of a devastating federal shutdown.
The result ends the threat of a shutdown for now, but the reprieve could be short-lived. Congress will have to re-fund the government in the coming weeks, risking a crisis as views harden, particularly among right-wing lawmakers whose demands were ultimately brushed aside this time in favor of a more bipartisan approach.
“We will do our job,” McCarthy, R-Calif., said before the House vote. “We will be adults in the room. And we will keep the government open.”
If an agreement had not been reached before Sunday, federal workers would have been furloughed, more than 2 million active military and reserve soldiers would have been forced to work without pay, and programs and services that Americans rely on from coast to coast would have begun Working without pay will have to expect interruptions due to the shutdown.
“It’s been a day full of twists and turns, but the American people can breathe a sigh of relief: There will be no government shutdown,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
The package funds the state at current 2023 levels through mid-November and also extends other provisions, including for the Federal Aviation Administration. The package passed the House by a vote of 335-91, with most Republicans and nearly all Democrats supporting it. It was passed in the Senate by a vote of 88 to 9.
But the loss of Ukraine aid was devastating for lawmakers from both parties who had pledged their support to President Volodymyr Zelensky after his recent visit to Washington. The Senate bill included $6 billion for Ukraine, and both chambers deadlocked Saturday as lawmakers considered their options.
“The American people deserve better,” said House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, warning in a lengthy speech that “extreme” Republicans would risk a shutdown.
McCarthy was forced to rely on Democrats to pass the package in the House, as the speaker’s far-right flank had said it would reject any short-term funding measure, denying him the votes needed from his narrow majority. It’s a move that is sure to increase calls for his ouster.
Having left the conservative holdouts behind, McCarthy is almost certain to face a motion aimed at removing him from office, although it is far from certain that there will be enough votes to become speaker to fall. Most Republicans voted for the package Saturday, while 90 opposed it.
“If someone wants to remove me because I want to be the adult in the room, just try,” McCarthy said of the threat to oust him. “But I think this country is too important.”
The White House was monitoring developments on Capitol Hill and aides briefed the president, who spent the weekend in Washington.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who has pushed for aid to Ukraine despite opposition from his own ranks, is expected to continue seeking U.S. support for Kiev in its fight against Russia.
“I have agreed to continue fighting for more economic and security aid for Ukraine,” McConnell, R-Ky., said before the vote.
Late last night, the Senate deadlocked as Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., postponed the vote and demanded assurances that Ukraine’s funds would be reconsidered.
“I know these are such important moments for the United States to lead the rest of the world,” Bennet said, mentioning that his mother was born in Poland in 1938 and survived the Holocaust. “We must not fail.”
The House’s quick about-face comes after the failure on Friday of McCarthy’s earlier plan to pass a Republican-only bill that would impose drastic spending cuts of up to 30% for most government agencies and tough border regulations that the White House and Democrats viewed as rejected too extreme. A group of 21 right-wing extremist Republican objectors were against it.
“Our options are dwindling by the minute,” said a senior Republican, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida.
The federal government faced an imminent shutdown, bringing great uncertainty for federal workers in states across America and the people who depend on them — from troops to border patrol agents to office workers, scientists and others.
Families relying on Head Start for children, food subsidies and countless other programs large and small have faced possible disruptions or outright closures. At airports, Transportation Security Administration officials and air traffic controllers were expected to work unpaid, but travelers may have faced delays in updating their U.S. passports or other travel documents.
The White House brushed aside McCarthy’s overtures to meet with Biden after the speaker backed out of the debt deal they negotiated earlier this year that set the size of the budget.
In response to his far-right leanings, McCarthy had made several concessions, including a return to spending limits that conservatives had already demanded in January as part of the deal that would help him become speaker of the House of Representatives.
But that wasn’t enough, as conservatives insisted that the House follow regular rules and debate and approve each of the 12 separate spending bills needed to fund government agencies, usually a months-long process. In the Senate, all of the no votes against the package came from Republicans.
McCarthy’s main Republican critic, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, has warned that he will file a motion calling for a vote to remove the speaker.
Some of the Republican holdouts, including Gaetz, are allies of former President Donald Trump, who is Biden’s main rival in the 2024 race. Trump has encouraged Republicans to fight hard for their priorities and even “shut them down.”
At an early closed session at the Capitol, several House Republicans, particularly those facing difficult re-elections next year, urged their colleagues to find a way to avoid a shutdown.
“We all have a responsibility to lead and govern,” said Republican Rep. Mike Lawler of New York.
The only House Democrat to vote against the package, Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois and co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus, said: “Protecting Ukraine is in our national interest.”
Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.
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