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Bipartisan stopgap funds bill unveiled in Senate

Legislation would give appropriators until Nov. 17 to work out differences on full-year bills

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, is escorted by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, left, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to a meeting with senators on Sept. 21.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, is escorted by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, left, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to a meeting with senators on Sept. 21. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate leaders unveiled a stopgap measure Tuesday that would extend current federal funding levels through Nov. 17 and provide a scaled-down version of emergency aid to Ukraine and natural disaster victims.

If it passes both chambers and President Joe Biden signs it by Saturday, the country would be spared a partial government shutdown that would begin with the new fiscal year on Oct. 1. But with Republicans signaling battles ahead over Ukraine aid, disaster relief and border security measures, the odds of passing a continuing resolution by week’s end appeared slim.

The draft Senate legislation, which leaders will attach to a House-passed Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, would give lawmakers an extra seven weeks to complete full-year fiscal 2024 appropriations without a shutdown. But House Republicans have balked at extending current funding levels, instead seeking to cut as much as 27 percent from most nondefense programs for the duration of the CR.

The Senate voted 77-19 Tuesday night to limit debate on a motion to proceed to the shell vehicle for the funding measure.

Key provisions of the bipartisan Senate-authored package are as follows:

  • Extension of current government appropriations rates through Nov. 17, with certain exceptions known as “anomalies” that allow for higher spending rates in certain circumstances.
  • $6.15 billion in total aid to Ukraine, including $4.5 billion in military assistance and $1.65 billion in economic aid. That’s well short of the $24 billion sought by the White House, but more money for Ukraine faces GOP resistance in both chambers.
  • $6 billion to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund, short of the $16 billion the administration wanted. The measure would free up another $20 billion for disaster aid by allowing FEMA to tap its full-year appropriation up front.
  • A fix to prevent steep cuts in pay for wildland firefighters next month.
  • A three-month extension of expiring Federal Aviation Administration spending and revenue collection authorities.
  • Extension of expiring National Flood Insurance Program authority through the duration of the CR.
  • A renewal of economic assistance to Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.
  • Five-year extensions of certain Food and Drug Administration user fee programs.
  • Extensions through the life of the stopgap bill for lapsing community health centers funding and a delay in Medicaid cuts affecting hospitals that serve a large proportion of low-income patients.

An anomaly enabling the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children to spend at a faster rate to ensure no disruption in benefits.Without the consent of all senators to speed up the clock, procedural hurdles could drag out a final vote in that chamber into the weekend.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has threatened to wage a protest over the inclusion of any aid to Ukraine, blocking unanimous consent, if the measure included a new round of Ukraine aid. And Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., says he may delay passage if senators don’t agree to the administration’s full $16 billion disaster relief request.

The Ukraine military funding would require the Pentagon to provide Congress with a “detailed execution plan” at least 10 days before expending it and has a provision that would allow the funds to be transferred back after a determination that the funds are not necessary.

Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said the measure reflects a compromise on those issues, among others.

“While for sure this bill does not have everything either side wants, it will continue to fund the government at present levels while maintaining our commitment to Ukraine’s security and humanitarian needs, while also ensuring those impacted by natural disasters across the country begin to get the resources they need,” Schumer said on the floor before the bill’s release.

In his own floor remarks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged backing for a CR that maintains “essential government functions at their current rates of operation” this week. He emphasized that shutdowns “don’t work as political bargaining chips.”

‘Horrible, horrible showdown’

But Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, an opponent of Ukraine aid, warned its inclusion would hold up the bill and potentially derail it in the House. “I think it sets up a horrible, horrible showdown,” he said. “There is no way that a clean CR plus $6 billion of funding for Ukraine gets anywhere past the House.”

Scott said he would block unanimous consent needed to speed up passage unless he gets an additional $10 billion in disaster relief and new language on grants to help farmers, modeled on legislation he introduced previously.

“I”m going to withhold consent until I get my bill passed,” he said.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a key backer of the stopgap measure, said she couldn’t predict how long it would take the Senate to pass it. “I think we got a good solid vote tonight,” she said. “We’ll just have to see how this plays out.”

Even if Schumer and McConnell can push the stopgap measure through the Senate by the weekend, it faces bigger obstacles in the House.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., declined to say Tuesday whether he would take up a Senate-passed bill. And he appeared determined to attach measures designed to strengthen security at the southern border, likely along the lines of a House-passed bill that called for resuming construction of a border wall, among other provisions.

“What do you tell to the families that tomorrow morning are going to wake up and their child’s dead because fentanyl came across?” McCarthy said. “All the president has to do is say, ‘You know what? As one of my fundamental jobs as president of the United States, is to secure our border.'”

McCarthy also said he intends to bring a GOP-backed CR to the House floor this week, but so far he has lacked the votes to take it up. A group of up to 10 hard-line conservatives has pledged opposition to any stopgap measure. 

If McCarthy agrees to put a bipartisan stopgap measure on the floor, however, he risks a “motion to vacate” from hard-liners who’ve pledged to try to oust him from the job.

Avery Roe and Aidan Quigley contributed to this report.

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