Senate Moves Forward on Short-Term Deal to Avert Government Shutdown

REUTERS/Leah Millis
U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks to members of the media as the deadline to avert a government shutdown approaches on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 26, 2023.

WASHINGTON – The Senate moved forward Tuesday night on a bipartisan short-term plan to avert a government shutdown in four days, setting up an expected clash with the Republican-led House, which is focused instead on long-term funding bills.

The Senate deal cleared its first procedural hurdle Tuesday night, passing 77-19. If adopted, it would fund the government for six weeks with additional money for Ukraine and domestic disaster relief. Without additional funding, the government will shut down Sunday.

But the bill, which still needs to clear a final vote in the Senate, faces an uncertain future in the House. Thus far unable to find consensus on a stopgap bill in his razor-thin majority, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has focused his conference’s efforts on passing a bundle of long-term appropriations bills. Hampered for two weeks by hard-liners with myriad demands tied to both short- and long-term funding, House Republicans cheered when they finally approved a procedural move Tuesday night to start debate on a package of long-term funding bills that would not avert a government shutdown.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) was the only Republican who voted against the House measure, a show of protest against the inclusion of funding for Ukraine in two of the four appropriations bills.

The future of U.S. funding for Ukraine’s defense against Russia has splintered Republicans on Capitol Hill and sets up a collision between the House and the Senate as they look to avert a government shutdown.

The Senate short-term deal, called a continuing resolution, allocates $4.49 billion for the Defense Department’s effort in Ukraine, alongside $1.65 billion in additional aid for the war-torn country, money that will remain available until Sept. 30, 2025. Combined, the more than $6 billion is far less than the White House’s request for $20.6 billion in Ukraine funding. But if the plan becomes law, Congress will almost certainly pursue additional money for Ukraine later this fall.

On the Senate floor Tuesday, Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the Senate’s short-term bill “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.”

On Tuesday, McCarthy said funding for Ukraine should be dealt with in a supplemental request and not tacked onto a stopgap bill.

“I don’t quite understand, when you have all these people across the country talking about the challenges happening in America today, that people would go and say, ‘Oh, we need to do Ukraine and ignore what’s happening along our border,'” he said.

McCarthy and other House Republican leaders have spent the past several days ratcheting up their demands that border security be included in any short-term funding deal. In a weekly closed-door meeting with a handful of Republicans across the ideological spectrum Tuesday, McCarthy implored them to keep stressing that House Republicans are focused on finding solutions to issues of border security, while trying to shift blame for a possible shutdown onto Democrats and President Biden, according to people familiar with the meeting who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal party dynamics.

The White House in a statement Tuesday night came out in support of the Senate-led proposal and implored House Republicans to stick to the parameters of a spending deal McCarthy and Biden reached earlier this year to avoid a default on the nation’s debt. The Senate has marked up its full-year funding bills to match that agreement, while House Republicans have marked up theirs to much more conservative figures to appease demands from the hard right.

“The Senate’s bipartisan continuing resolution will keep the government open, make a down payment on disaster relief, and is an important show of support for Ukraine,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “House Republicans should join the Senate in doing their job, stop playing political games with peoples’ lives, and abide by the bipartisan deal two-thirds of them voted for in May.”

House Republicans have all but punted on a short-term solution that would keep the government open beyond Saturday, choosing instead to focus on long-term appropriations bills. McCarthy has been unable to unite his conference behind a short-term plan that would both appease his hard-right flank and ensure he keeps his leadership position. Roughly 10 Republicans have said they will never vote for a continuing resolution in protest of the House’s delay in considering full-year funding bills.

McCarthy and his allies have been publicly calling for the House to pass a stopgap bill, largely blaming several of the holdouts for also being against starting the process to consider long-term appropriation bills until Tuesday.

“We should have done it two weeks ago,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) said after the weekly meeting with McCarthy. “We lose the leverage every day that passes, and if you care about reducing spending and care about securing the border, our maximum leverage opportunity was two weeks ago; it drops every day.”

Tuesday evening’s vote in the House began debate on four measures that would fund defense, agriculture, the State Department and homeland security for a full fiscal year. Republican leaders hope that moving forward on fiscal 2024 bills, a key demand of hard-liners opposed to a short-term solution, will eventually shake enough support loose for a stopgap deal with the Senate. But it is not clear if even each of the four long-term spending bills has the support to pass the House.

During the private meeting Tuesday, McCarthy said he would ideally want to put a House-led short-term bill that includes border security and launching a commission on the debt on the floor Friday, the people familiar with that meeting said. He telegraphed that he remains opposed to the Senate proposal but could take that bill once it is sent to the House, tack on Republicans’ border security proposal, and send it back to the Senate hours before the shutdown would begin.

McCarthy also told lawmakers that if the government shuts down, the House will continue voting on its appropriation bills to send to the Senate, which has yet to pass any of its fiscal bills. But those House bills would be dead on arrival in the Senate, forcing the chambers to negotiate again.

McCarthy also is unlikely to bring the Senate proposal as currently written up for a vote because it would require Democratic support to pass, according to multiple Republican aides. Members on the far right, including many within the staunchly conservative House Freedom Caucus, have said that relying on Democrats to move the stopgap bill would probably result in a Republican lawmaker filing a motion to remove McCarthy from his speakership.

For the past week, McCarthy and his allies have criticized GOP holdouts by arguing that they are the ones working with Democrats, because they are voting alongside that party to block appropriations bills.

“It’d be concerning to me that there would be people in the Republican Party that will take the position of President Biden against what the rest of Americans want,” McCarthy said Tuesday. “I don’t understand how, at the end of the day, they would stay in that lane.”