1st October 2023 – (Washington) U.S. President Joe Biden took action on Saturday night by signing a short-term funding bill that extends government funding for 45 days, just moments before the expiration of the fiscal year. This move averted a federal government shutdown, providing relief after Congress hurriedly approved the bipartisan agreement.
The funding package, which omits aid to Ukraine, a priority for the White House but opposed by an increasing number of Republican lawmakers, includes a $16 billion increase in federal disaster assistance, fulfilling Biden’s complete request. The bill ensures government funding until 17th November.
Following a period of chaos and uncertainty in the House, Speaker Kevin McCarthy unexpectedly abandoned his demand for significant spending cuts from conservative members and relied on Democrats to pass the bill, even putting his own position at risk. The Senate then followed suit, providing final approval and bringing a whirlwind day at the Capitol to a close.
In a statement, President Biden expressed his satisfaction, stating, “This is good news for the American people.”
Although the immediate threat of a shutdown has been averted, Congress will face the challenge of funding the government again in the coming weeks. This poses a risk of another crisis as positions harden, particularly among conservative lawmakers who were overruled this time in favour of a more bipartisan approach.
“We’re going to do our job,” said McCarthy, emphasising the need for responsible governance and keeping the government open.
Had no deal been reached by Sunday, federal workers would have faced furloughs, over 2 million military personnel would have had to work without pay, and various programs and services relied upon by Americans across the country would have begun experiencing disruptions.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer expressed relief, stating, “It has been a day full of twists and turns, but the American people can breathe a sigh of relief: There will be no government shutdown.”
The bill, approved by the House with a vote of 335-91 (with most Republicans and almost all Democrats in support) and by the Senate with an 88-9 vote, maintains government funding at current 2023 levels until mid-November. It also extends provisions for the Federal Aviation Administration and other areas.
However, the removal of aid to Ukraine was a significant blow to lawmakers from both parties who had pledged their support to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy following his recent visit to Washington. The Senate’s version of the bill included $6 billion for Ukraine, and both chambers faced a standstill as lawmakers assessed their options.
House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York criticized “extreme” Republicans for risking a shutdown, stating, “The American people deserve better.”
To secure approval for the House package, McCarthy had to rely on Democrats since the hard-right members of his party had announced their opposition to any short-term funding measure, thereby denying him the necessary votes from his slim majority. This move is likely to intensify calls for McCarthy’s removal from office.
The White House closely monitored the developments on Capitol Hill, with aides briefing President Biden, who was in Washington for the weekend.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, a staunch advocate for Ukraine aid despite resistance from his own party, is expected to continue pushing for U.S. support in Ukraine’s fight against Russia.
Late at night, the Senate faced a delay when Senator Michael Bennet sought assurances that Ukraine funds would be revisited.
The rapid change in direction by the House follows the collapse of McCarthy’s earlier plan to pass a Republican-only bill with significant spending cuts and strict border provisions, which the White House and Democrats rejected as too extreme. A group of 21 conservative Republican members opposed the bill.
The federal government had been on the brink of a shutdown, causing uncertainty for federal workers across the country and the people who rely on their services, including troops, border control agents, office workers, scientists, and more.
The House’s actions catered to the demands of its hard-right members. McCarthy made multiple concessions, including adhering to the spending limits demanded by conservatives earlier in the year. However, these measures were insufficient, as the conservatives insisted on following regular rules and individually debating and approving each of the 12 separate spending bills required to fund government agencies, a process that typically takes months. In the Senate, all of the “no” votes against the package came from Republicans.
McCarthy’s main Republican critic, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, has indicated 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 primary rival in the 2024 race. Trump has been encouraging Republicans to fight vigorously for their priorities and even suggested that they “shut it down.”
During a closed-door meeting, several House Republicans, particularly those facing challenging reelections next year, urged their colleagues to find a way to prevent a shutdown.
The lone House Democrat to vote against the package, Representative Mike Quigley of Illinois, who co-chairs the Congressional Ukraine Caucus, emphasised the importance of supporting Ukraine, saying, “Protecting Ukraine is crucial for our national security and standing in the world.”