Skip to content

Shutdown averted as Biden signs seven-week spending bill

Senate leaders commit to bring up Ukraine aid separately, after dramatic House reversal

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is seen in the Capitol Friday.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is seen in the Capitol Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Joe Biden signed a short-term spending bill to avert a partial government shutdown starting Sunday after a dramatic turn of events Saturday that saw the House quickly pivot to bipartisanship.

Hours before the midnight deadline, the Senate voted 88-9 to clear the House-passed, 48-day funding patch, which generally mirrors the Senate version except for one major omission: There’s no military or economic aid for Ukraine, unlike the Senate bill, which had $6 billion.

Democrats grumbled about that and called on the House to bring a separate Ukraine aid bill to the floor. But ultimately there was no stomach to allow a government shutdown over the lack of Ukraine money, which lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said would be forthcoming in a separate package.

“Democrats and Republicans have come to an agreement and the government will remain open. We will have avoided a shutdown,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., before the final roll call vote.

The House passed the bill earlier on a 335-91 vote, drawing critical backing from some Democrats who just hours earlier had criticized the bill and how quickly GOP leaders were trying to push it through.

In the Senate, lawmakers all morning had been waiting for the smoke signal from their colleagues across the Capitol. Republicans in the Senate had been stalling for time to see the outcome of the House vote on the package. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said his GOP colleagues would oppose cloture on the Senate version because “there may be a bipartisan agreement coming from the House.”

With that bipartisan agreement en route, a partial government shutdown that many lawmakers thought a fait accompli starting at midnight suddenly seemed likely to be avoided.

“We’re going to finish tonight,” Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., said after the House vote as she was heading in to the office of Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D. 

A White House official had suggested Biden was likely to sign the measure, pointing out the House-backed continuing resolution would not cut spending, has no restrictive border policies and contains important disaster aid and other provisions. The official also said the White House expects a follow-on Ukraine aid bill to pass in both chambers.

“We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted,” Biden said in a statement Saturday evening. “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.” Biden otherwise called the stopgap “good news,” but criticized House Republicans for a “manufactured crisis” over funding the government in recent weeks.

When Senate Democrats met Saturday afternoon, all signs pointed towards acceptance of the package after the lopsided House vote.

“I’m just happy cooler heads are prevailing and we’ll have no shutdown,” Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., said after the House vote.

Still, objections over the lack of funding for Ukraine led at least one senator, Michael Bennet, D-Colo., to hold up the package instead of allowing swift passage Saturday night. Ultimately Bennet dropped his objection after receiving a commitment that a separate Ukraine aid bill would be forthcoming.

“I think it was really, really important to send a signal to the world that we’re going to continue to work in a bipartisan way to get Ukraine the funds that it needs,” Bennet said before heading into the chamber to cast his vote for the bill.

Schumer and McConnell each said before the final vote that Congress ultimately would take care of Ukraine.

“Most Senate Republicans remain committed to helping our friends on the front lines,” McConnell said. “I’m confident the Senate will pass further urgent assistance to Ukraine later this year.”

The Senate “no” votes on final passage were all Republicans: Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty, both from Tennessee; Mike Braun of Indiana; Ted Cruz of Texas; Mike Lee of Utah; Eric Schmitt of Missouri; J.D. Vance of Ohio; and Roger Marshall of Kansas.

The difference a day makes

The bipartisan House measure marks a sharp turnaround from 24 hours earlier, when a very partisan and conservative House stopgap measure, with nearly 30 percent cuts to most domestic programs and tough border restrictions, went down to defeat.

No Democrats supported it and 21 Republicans opposed it as well − which was the last straw for Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and his allies, who realized there was no way some of their members would vote to keep the government open.

“Today wasn’t the choice we wanted to have. We tried to pass the most conservative stopgap measure possible,” McCarthy told reporters after the vote. “Unfortunately we didn’t have 218 Republicans that would vote for it.”

The latest House stopgap bill passed with the support of 126 Republicans, while 90 GOP lawmakers voted “no.” Only one Democrat, Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., opposed it, over the omission of Ukraine aid. Quigley is co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who’s been threatening a motion to oust McCarthy if he brings a bipartisan stopgap bill to the floor, didn’t get the chance on Saturday.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., leaves the Capitol on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

After House passage, Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Okla., quickly moved to adjourn the chamber, and Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., the presiding officer, banged the gavel before Gaetz could offer the motion to vacate. That move closed up the House until Monday, which is the earliest Gaetz could make his move.

With the House gaveled out, senators had little choice but take up the House version to avoid a shutdown.

The House moved quickly earlier Saturday to take up the 71-page bill, introduced shortly before floor debate began.

The apparent move by McCarthy to ignore critics in his conference who’ve threatened to try to oust him surprised Democrats, who stalled for time to discuss the measure in a closed-door meeting by calling for a vote on a motion to adjourn.

In comments to reporters before the vote, McCarthy basically dared his critics to try to remove him as speaker.

“You know what, if I have to risk my job for standing up for the American public, I will do that,” he said.

After the House vote, Minority Whip Katherine M. Clark, D-Mass., told reporters that McCarthy had simply caved.

“Today, Democrats came to the rescue. Speaker McCarthy admitted defeat and asked Democrats to put out the fire that he and his party had started,” Clark said.

Pay raise block added

The legislation, unveiled shortly after a 90-minute House GOP meeting Saturday morning, largely mirrors the continuing resolution that the Senate is considering.

The turn of events in the House had Senate Republicans reevaluating their options, and they stalled for their own time in a closed-door meeting. Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., earlier called a vote to instruct the sergeant-at-arms to round up missing senators and get them to the floor for the cloture vote. Later, Schumer moved to recess the Senate and postponed the vote.

The House bill contains $10 billion extra for disaster relief, for a total of $16 billion, matching the White House request. It’s got another major difference from the Senate version: no money to support Ukraine in its battle against Russia, nor does it have an extension for expiring Ukrainian refugee benefits.

“The appeasement strategy of the far right does not have majority support in this body,” House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said in opposition to the bill during floor debate. She inserted into the record a letter from Undersecretary of Defense Michael McCord to lawmakers saying that the Pentagon has no more money to train Ukrainian solders and just $1.6 billion left to replenish stocks of U.S. weapons and equipment sent to Ukraine.

Democrats also blasted the measure for initially omitting the annual statutory provision blocking a pay raise for lawmakers, though Republicans pointed out they will have a chance to debate that provision next week, when the Legislative Branch spending bill is expected to go to the floor.

Republicans must have had a change of heart after hearing concerns, however. After debate on the stopgap bill resumed Saturday, Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mark Amodei, R-Nev., said Republicans would fix it to “include the Senate’s genius language” blocking the member pay raise. The House then agreed by unanimous consent to add the Senate provision to the bill.

The House bill also drops some “anomalies” from the Senate version that would allow higher funding rates for pandemic preparedness and federal student aid administration. DeLauro’s staff circulated a memo highlighting differences with the Senate version in the House’s “not so clean” CR.

But it also mirrors Senate provisions that would extend the expiring Federal Aviation Administration authorization through Dec. 31 and extend authorizations for the National Flood Insurance Program and community health centers through the CR’s duration, all provisions popular with Democrats. And there are no cuts to current funding levels during the stopgap period.

DeLauro ultimately backed the bill, as did most Democrats.

Conflicted Democrats

House Democrats had earlier seemed conflicted on the measure. Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and Minority Whip Katherine M. Clark, D-Mass., raced to the floor to call for a time-out, saying their request for 90 minutes to read the bill had been denied.

“We have serious trust issues,” Clark said, instead offering a motion to adjourn. Then Democrats went behind closed doors to meet.

Part of the House Democrats’ effort to buy time: seeing what happens in the Senate with that chamber’s previously scheduled cloture vote. 

Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., earlier said Democrats wanted to see if the Senate vote would give their side leverage to insist on Ukraine funding being attached. She said there’s “quite a bit of interest” among House Democrats in the GOP-drafted bill, if it was truly a clean extension of fiscal 2023 funding and included authorizations.

“Already, we know of some things that are not the same,” Kuster said. “Look, we do our homework. Give us a few minutes, let us look it through, but there’s nobody in our caucus that wants to shut down.”

After Democrats’ meeting broke and the motion to adjourn was rejected, Jeffries took to the floor and launched into a “magic minute” speech — a privilege afforded party leaders to speak as long as they want, well beyond one minute. There was even an incident involving a pulled fire alarm, which some attributed to dilatory tactics — an accusation the perpetrator, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., denied.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters on the House steps of the Capitol on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In the Senate, the emergence of McCarthy’s new plan appeared to be strengthening GOP resolve to oppose moving ahead with that chamber’s existing bill. That measure already faced a bloc of Republican opposition due to Ukraine aid, and then an effort to negotiate a border security package they favor stalled on Friday. 

Senate Republicans were meeting behind closed doors before their cloture vote and while the drama was playing out in the House. GOP senators were generally expressing support for the House bill on Saturday, even Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, typically a hawk on funding the Ukraine war effort.

Graham said Ukraine can “make it six weeks” without additional aid, lining up roughly with the Nov. 17 end date on the CR. He said a separate border security and Ukraine package could be considered once the stopgap is passed.

“The House has made it pretty clear that Ukraine is just a nonstarter over there, so I hope the Senate understands that as well,” Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said.

Sen. Markwayne Mullin, an Oklahoma Republican, said if Schumer chooses not to bring up the House bill, then any shutdown that ensues would be the Democrats’ responsibility.

“If he doesn’t do it, then we have a Schumer shutdown, not a McCarthy shutdown,” Mullin said.

Turning the page

One thing became clear Saturday morning: McCarthy and most House Republicans were ready to avoid a shutdown and move on.

Some House Republicans left their morning meeting believing McCarthy had no choice but to turn to a CR that Democrats would support since there’s still a solid GOP bloc that won’t vote for any stopgap bill.

“The cast of characters that still have personality issues with the speaker who would rather I think in some cases tear the country down than try to move forward and give him a success, I think is sad,” Rep. Greg Murphy, R-N.C., said after the meeting. “But you know what, you can’t have a few people just tear down the whole country.”

Aidan Quigley, Niels Lesniewski and Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

Recent Stories

Graves decides not to run after Louisiana district redrawn

Garland won’t face contempt of Congress charge over Biden audio

Hold on to your bats! — Congressional Hits and Misses

Editor’s Note: Mixing baseball and contempt

Supreme Court wipes out ban on ‘bump stock’ firearm attachments

Photos of the week ending June 14, 2024