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Congress averts a catastrophic shutdown in dramatic fashion
From an 11th-hour bipartisan compromise and a well-timed magic minute to a pulled fire alarm and an ornery Senate, lawmakers found a way to keep the lights on with just hours to spare.
Good news: The government will remain open—for at least six more weeks.
Congress approved a short-term measure that will maintain the current funding levels, pay our troops, and ensure women and families receive the nutrition assistance and housing assistance they need to make ends meet. The legislation also includes $16 billion to replenish FEMA’s disaster relief fund and extends authorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, which was set to expire at midnight along with government funding.
The bill cleared the House by a vote of 335-91, with 126 Republicans joining 209 Democrats to pass it. The Senate approved the legislation in an overwhelming 88-9 vote. The bill will now head to President JOE BIDEN’s desk to be signed into law.
Its passage represents a major setback for House conservatives who demanded deep funding cuts, anti-immigration policies, and culture-war provisions in exchange for them performing their basic constitutional duty to keep the lights on.
It’s also the second instance in less than four months that House Democrats have outvoted the Republican majority on must-pass legislation following a June vote to avoid a default on the nation’s debt.
And the outcome imperils House Speaker KEVIN McCARTHY (R-Calif.), who after months of pressure from the right flank of his conference did what he promised for weeks he wouldn’t: Bring a continuing resolution deprived of any significant Republican priorities on the House floor.
“Today wasn’t a choice we wanted to have. We tried to pass the most conservative stopgap possible,” McCarthy told reporters after the vote. “We didn’t have 218 Republicans that would vote for it to help us secure the border.”
House Minority Leader HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-N.Y.) demonstrated a triumphant tone in the victory lap he took during a post-vote press conference.
“The American people have won. The extreme MAGA Republicans have lost,” he said. “It was a victory for the American people and a complete and total surrender by right-wing extremists who throughout the year have tried to hijack the Congress.”
Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER (D-N.Y.) joined his fellow Brooklynite in celebrating the passage of the bridge legislation.
“It’s been a day of twists and turns but the American people can breathe a sigh of relief,” he said. “Today, MAGA extremists have failed. Bipartisanship has prevailed. And both parties have come together to avert a shutdown.”
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As Schumer mentioned, the day had more than its fair share of drama.
It started with an early-morning House Republican conference meeting where GOP leadership admitted that no short-term bill McCarthy put forward to keep the government open would pass with just Republican votes.
A shutdown seemed inevitable as House Republicans teed up votes on standalone messaging bills to pay our troops and border patrol during the funding lapse, refill the National Flood Insurance Program, and extend the FAA.
But moments later, a new plan emerged: House Republicans would offer a 45-day stop-gap measure with billions in disaster aid the White House requested and the FAA extension minus Ukraine aid, a top priority for the Biden administration and the majority of the Congress.
McCarthy and his lieutenants wanted to move quickly before an afternoon vote across the Capitol to advance a Senate bipartisan continuing resolution took place, which would have further isolated House Republicans and made it clear they bore the brunt of the blame for the looming shutdown.
House Democrats balked at the idea of voting on a bill that they didn’t have time to read or discuss if they would support it.
So Rep. KATHERINE CLARK (D-Mass.), the number-two House Democrat, moved to temporarily adjourn to buy staffers some time to scrub the bill after House Republicans denied her request for a 90-minute pause prior to the vote.
This was especially frustrating to Democrats. The expedited timeline violated the policy the new House Republican majority established in January that members would get at least 72 hours to read a bill before casting a vote on the legislation.
“For the Democratic Caucus—and this isn't the same for the Republican Conference—the details matter,” House Democratic Caucus Chair PETE AGUILAR (D-Calif.) told reporters. “Helping people is why we come here. We want to make a difference in our communities. We want to help our communities. And in order to do that, we wanted to make sure that we got it right.”
Another shrewd delay tactic: Jeffries took to the House floor to avail himself of the “magic minute,” a custom that allows party leaders to speak as long as they wish—free from the strict time limits rank-and-file members must adhere to.
“All we’re doing is making sure that we can assess the four corners of the legislation that is before us, avoid a catastrophic government shutdown, put people over politics, and make sure that we can continue the great American dream,” he said to a standing ovation from his members.
As Jeffries spoke, House Democrats pushed back against the absence of legislative language that would have enabled House Republicans to approve a cost-of-living adjustment, effectively giving members of Congress a raise when the GOP claims it wants to slash federal spending. House Democrats were also annoyed that the CR prevented the Pentagon from transferring existing resources and funding to Ukraine. Republicans addressed the first concern while ignoring the second.
Meanwhile, all eyes in the Senate were on the developments in the lower chamber. Schumer held off the procedural vote to advance the Senate stop-gap. After meeting with his conference, Senate Minority Leader MITCH McCONNELL announced his members wouldn’t vote to move forward with the Senate compromise bill anyway.
Jeffries was effusive in his praise for Schumer whom he credited for promoting the bipartisan approach that ultimately won the day.
“And as a result of that, you had House Democrats in alignment with Senate Democrats. Both of us were in alignment with Senate Republicans. All of us were in alignment with President Biden on behalf of the American people,” Jeffries said. “You had the extreme MAGA Republicans on an island all by themselves, and as recently as yesterday, put forth a draconian bill that would have slashed and burned the ability of the federal government to meet the health and safety and economic needs of the American people.”
Just after 2:25 p.m., the vote to avert a government shutdown was opened. Clark, whose job is to count votes and maintain party discipline, told her members to wait for the Republicans to cast their ballots to remind McCarthy he couldn’t pass the bill without their help. It wasn’t until then that Democrats provided the votes necessary to push it across the finish line.
And as if the day didn’t need any more weirdness, Rep. JAMAAL BOWMAN (D-N.Y.) allegedly pulled a fire alarm in a Capitol office building forcing an evacuation into the event.
“Congressman Bowman did not realize he would trigger a building alarm as he was rushing to make an urgent vote,” his spokesperson EMMA SIMON said in a statement. “The congressman regrets any confusion.”
Bowman would later reject the notion that he pulled the fire alarm to the delay the vote before Democrats had a chance to read the bill as “complete BS.”
McCarthy compared Bowman’s actions to those of the insurrectionists who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Two House Republicans plan to introduce separate resolutions to expel and censure Bowman.
JOE MORELLE, the top Democrat on the House Administration Committee, said the allegations are a serious matter. “It appears from the footage to be him, but I haven’t talked to him,” he said before adding that he wanted to hear Bowman’s explanation.
Jeffries told reporters he hadn’t seen the video and declined to comment until he did so.
Coming out of an afternoon caucus meeting, Senate Democrats were optimistic leadership would reach a time agreement to quickly pass the House CR. But all it takes is one senator to stop the show. And today that senator was MICHAEL BENNET, a Democrat from Colorado, who was upset about the removal of Ukraine aid from the legislation and wanted reassurance that the Senate would consider future aid ASAP. (The hold rankled senators who hoped to escape Washington before the last flights departed but Schumer and McConnell released a joint statement that satisfied Bennet’s demand.)
MIKE QUIGLEY, the only House Democrat who voted no on the bill did so in protest of the lack of Ukraine funding as well.
“If we’re willing to cave that quickly, what makes them think we won’t cave in 45 days?” he said after the vote. “I at least had to voice opposition and express that concern.”
Members in both chambers shared Bennet and Quigley’s concerns. But many felt it wasn’t worth shutting down the government over $6 billion in Ukraine aid when the White House is expected to request enough aid for an entire year by the time the short-term measure expires. Then they’ll mount a vigorous defense of additional funding for the war-torn country. But in the meantime, Senate Democrats say they’ll start moving a supplemental bill for Ukraine as early as next week, a move House Democrats seemed to rally around.
“It's important for democracy. It's important the principle of freedom. It's important for truth. It's important for NATO,” Jeffries said. “And extreme MAGA Republicans will have an opportunity over the next few days to put the American people and our national security interests first and the extreme MAGA Republican pro-Putin caucus last.”
The White House expressed support for the bill and confidence that Congress would ultimately approve additional Ukraine aid.
“This keeps government open at higher funding levels than the Senate bill, because it includes disaster relief and FAA authorization. It doesn’t have deep cuts House Republicans were pushing yesterday,” an administration official said. “We fully expect Speaker McCarthy—who has stated his support for funding to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s illegal and unjustified war of aggression—will bring a separate bill to the floor shortly.”
Now that the immediate crisis is averted, House Republicans have canceled a previously scheduled two-week recess to process the remaining eight full-year funding bills ahead of a fierce negation with the Senate and White House. (To be clear, even if the GOP bills pass the House, which isn’t a given, they won’t be signed into law as written. But the passage, in House Republican leadership’s eyes, demonstrates party unity, an essential ingredient to winning any legislative debate.)
House Democrats see today’s result as a template for the upcoming talks.
“Moving forward, we will continue to work in a bipartisan way to discuss a year-end spending agreement consistent with our values: Meeting the needs of the American people, solving problems on their behalf, and putting people over politics,” Jeffries said. “That is what the spending agreement that passed the House floor today has accomplished and moving forward that will be our guiding principle in getting things done for the American people.”