September 30, 2023

Congress passes spending stopgap, averting a shutdown hours before midnight deadline

Article origination NPR
Members of the House and Senate raced to pass a spending bill ahead of the shutdown deadline. - Nathan Howard / Getty Images

Members of the House and Senate raced to pass a spending bill ahead of the shutdown deadline.

Nathan Howard / Getty Images


Updated September 30, 2023 at 11:57 PM ET


The Senate voted 88-9 to approve a stopgap spending bill to fund the federal government through Nov. 17, narrowly averting a shutdown by a midnight deadline. President Biden signed the bill into law shortly afterward.

The legislation also includes $16 billion in emergency disaster assistance requested by the White House and extends authorization for the Federal Aviation Administration through the end of the year. It does not include any additional aid to Ukraine, despite widespread bipartisan support for that funding in the Senate.

Biden praised the legislation before signing it and called for Congress to move quickly to address the lack of funding for Ukraine.

"We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted," Biden said in a statement. "I fully expect the Speaker will keep his commitment to the people of Ukraine and secure passage of the support needed to help Ukraine at this critical moment."

The sudden agreement in Congress on spending was a major reversal after House Republicans remained at an impasse for weeks. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy unveiled the bill Saturday morning after a closed-door meeting with House Republicans.

The vote came after an hours-long delay led in part by Sen. Michael Bennett, D-Colo., who demanded a firm commitment from leaders in both parties to hold a vote on further funding for Ukraine.

The vote capped a day of dramatic swings in Congress ahead of the shutdown deadline.

Earlier in the day the House voted 335 to 91 to approve the extension after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., announced the plan to vote on the bill following a morning meeting with House Republicans. McCarthy has refused for weeks to consider any spending bill that would require the support of Democrats. But, facing the potential for a politically and economically harmful shutdown, McCarthy reversed course, specifically calling on Democrats for help passing the bill.

"What I am asking, Republicans and Democrats alike, put your partisanship away, focus on the American public," McCarthy told reporters before the vote.

The Senate had been scheduled to vote to advance its own bipartisan bill that funded the government at roughly the same time as the House. It's not clear when or if that vote will occur as senators meet to discuss the next steps.


No funding for for Ukraine


The White House, congressional Democrats and many Senate Republicans have insisted on including financial support for Ukraine, because current funding is set to run out at the beginning of October. However, that money could not pass the House and lawmakers abandoned those plans in order to pass a deal on spending.

"We fully expect Speaker McCarthy — who has stated his support for aid to Ukraine — will bring a separate bill to the floor shortly," said a White House official, after the House passed its measure. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to comment on the rapidly changing events.

Despite the White House comments, it's unclear where McCarthy stands on Ukraine aid. While he has at times made supportive comments for Ukraine's fight against Russia, he has also given voice to concerns expressed by some Republicans about accountability.

Senior White House staff have been tracking the developments and updating President Biden as they happen, the official said.


McCarthy's reversal


The sudden rush of action came after House Republicans huddled in the basement of the Capitol to discuss strategy.

Some McCarthy allies, like Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., argued a temporary fix to funding the government was needed so House Republicans can continue to push for conservative spending policy without the threat of a shutdown. Leaders stressed that with continued resistance from a group of conservative GOP members, there was no way to move a bill with just Republicans. McCarthy holds a narrow majority and can't lose any more than four votes.

Johnson pointed to the 21 far right Republican members who blocked a GOP bill on Friday as the reason why the speaker moved to this new plan. Those members "put us in a position to unfortunately pass something a little less conservative. Now the good news is this is still a pathway to get the kind of conservative wins we need through the appropriations process."

House Republican leaders canceled the planned district recess for the beginning of October and said the House will continue to move their own spending bills — they passed four of the 12 that fund federal agencies.

Conservatives pushed back against the stopgap bill. Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., told reporters he would vote no against a continuing resolution. "There's no such thing as a clean CR." He argued if one passed he didn't believe the House would continue taking up the rest of the annual spending bills.


The threat to McCarthy's leadership


McCarthy's move opens him up to a challenge for his gavel. Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz has been hinting for days he was planning to file a resolution to oust the speaker. Under rules McCarthy agreed to in January when he was elected, only one lawmaker is needed to file a "motion to vacate" — a resolution that calls for a vote of confidence in the speaker.

Asked by reporters if he was worried about his job, the speaker said, "you know what, if somebody wants to remove because I want to be the adult in the room, go ahead and try."


Democrats join with McCarthy's plan


There was drama early in the day as House Democrats attempted to stall progress on the House bill in order to give the Senate time to vote first on their own version of the legislation that would have provided roughly $6 billion for Ukraine.

As senators crept towards their own vote, across the Capitol, the House Appropriations Committee's Democratic staff members released an analysis criticizing the bill for not including money for Ukraine.

But it quickly became clear that Senate Republicans were on board with McCarthy's plan and House Democrats relented.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, said he was disappointed with the decision to remove Ukraine aid but Congress needed to move ahead with the deal they could reach.

"There's bipartisan consensus on this, we've had overwhelming votes on this so I think we will work that out," McGovern told reporters. "But right now this is a bill, I mean I would have written the bill a little bit better, but this is a bill that democrats can support and I think we won some important victories."

NPR's Deepa Shivaram contributed to this report.

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