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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Congress narrowly averts shutdown as House Democrats help pass stopgap bill

House Minority Leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023.

By Carl Hulse and Catie Edmondson

Congress narrowly averted a government shutdown Saturday as the House, in a stunning turnabout, approved a stopgap plan to keep the federal government open until mid-November. After Senate passage, President Joe Biden signed the bill shortly before midnight.

In a rapid-fire sequence of events on Capitol Hill, a coalition of House Democrats and Republicans voted to pass a plan that would keep money flowing to government agencies and provide billions of dollars for disaster recovery efforts. The bill did not include money for Ukraine despite a push for it by the White House and members of both parties in the Senate, but House Democrats embraced the plan anyway, seeing it as the most expedient way to avoid widespread government disruption.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who had for weeks brushed off demands to work with Democrats on a spending solution, outlined the proposal for Republicans in a closed-door meeting Saturday morning and then rushed to get it on the floor under a special procedure that meant it could only pass with substantial Democratic help.

Democrats initially complained that McCarthy had sprung the plan on them and was trying to push through a 71-page measure without sufficient scrutiny. But they also did not want to be accused of putting the U.S. aid to Ukraine ahead of keeping government agencies open and paying 2 million members of the military and 1.5 million federal employees.

“Are you telling me you would shut down the government if there is not Ukraine funding?” Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., asked Democrats on the House floor.

Ultimately, it was scores of his own Republican colleagues who voted to shut down the government. The measure was approved on a vote of 335-91, with 209 Democrats and 126 Republicans voting in favor and 90 Republicans and one Democrat in opposition.

The outcome was similar to a vote earlier this year to suspend the federal debt limit, and it could pose difficulties for McCarthy, R-Calif., as a far-right faction had threatened to try to oust him from the speakership if he worked with Democrats to keep the government open.

But after a failed effort Friday to win enough Republican votes to avoid a shutdown, McCarthy was out of choices if he wanted to prevent a politically and economically damaging shutdown. He put the bill on the floor without certainty it could pass.

“I like to gamble,” he said.

The House adjourned immediately after the vote, leaving the Senate to either take up the legislation or face blame for a shutdown, since there was no way for the House to consider additional legislation before Monday.

With little alternative, and Senate Republicans clamoring for the House bill, the Senate jettisoned its own stopgap measure that contained $6 billion for Ukraine and approved the House version on an 88-9 vote.

“The American people can breathe a sigh of relief: there will be no government shutdown,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader, after the Senate vote closed about three hours before the deadline. “After trying to take our government hostage, MAGA Republicans won nothing.”

In a statement after Senate passage of the bill, Biden called it “good news for the American people.” He added, “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.”

“Instead of siding with his own party today, Kevin McCarthy sided with 209 Democrats to push through a continuing resolution that maintains the Biden-Pelosi-Schumer spending levels and policies,” Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “He allowed the D.C. Uniparty to win again. Should he remain speaker of the House?”

A much larger contingent of Republicans also refused to back the measure, which also left out severe immigration restrictions many of them had demanded.

Before the vote, McCarthy said he recognized that the legislation might spark a challenge to his job but said he was willing to risk it to push a bill through that would keep the government open.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who has threatened to try and oust McCarthy, was not willing to reveal his timing. He said, however, that McCarthy’s speakership was “on tenuous ground.”

In the end, Democrats celebrated the outcome. “Extreme MAGA Republicans have lost,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., the minority leader, said as he walked to the House floor to vote in favor of the bill. “The American people have won.”

The day on Capitol Hill was full of twists and turns. As House Democrats stalled McCarthy’s plan on the floor to allow time to study it, fire alarms rang out in the Cannon House Office Building, forcing its evacuation. It was later determined that Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., had triggered the alarm, though he claimed it was inadvertent.

“It was like riding a mechanical bull all week,” said Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the No. 3 House Republican.

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