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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Senate reaches spending deal to head off government shutdown

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Sept. 26, 2023.

By Carl Hulse and Catie Edmondson

Senate Republicans and Democrats reached agreement earlier this week on a stopgap spending plan that would head off a government shutdown Sunday while providing billions in disaster relief and aid to Ukraine, but the measure faced resistance in the Republican-led House.

The legislation cleared its first procedural obstacle Tuesday night on a bipartisan vote of 77-19. It would keep government funding flowing through Nov. 17 to allow more time for negotiations over yearlong spending bills and provide about $6 billion for the Ukraine war effort as well as approximately $6 billion for disaster relief in the wake of a series of wildfires and floods.

Senate leaders hoped to pass it by the end of the week and send it to the House in time to avert a shutdown now set to begin at midnight Saturday. But there was no guarantee that Speaker Kevin McCarthy would bring the legislation to the House floor for a vote, since some far-right Republicans have said they would try to remove him from his post if he did.

Still, in putting the legislation forward, Senate leaders in both parties were ratcheting up the pressure on McCarthy, who countered by declaring Tuesday night that he would put a stopgap spending plan of his own that would “secure our border and keep government open” to a vote later in the week.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the Senate agreement “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 disasters across the country begin to get the resources they need.”

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, urged her colleagues to support the plan, warning that shutdowns “do not accomplish the goals that people who advocate government shutdowns think will be accomplished.”

“I’ve been through two government shutdowns,” Collins said, “and I can tell you they are never good policy.”

The Senate proposal would meet stiff resistance from House Republicans because it includes assistance for Ukraine that many of them oppose and maintains federal funding at current levels. Many House Republicans are demanding steep cuts in even an interim funding plan. As a result, McCarthy would need Democratic votes to pass it, and leaning on Democrats would stir a backlash from his own party.

It was unclear whether McCarthy would even be able to muster the votes in his party to advance the stopgap funding plan he floated Tuesday night. Some Republicans have flatly declared they will refuse to support any short-term measure that funds the government in one up-or-down vote.

McCarthy challenged his hard-right flank to support the plan, saying voting against such a measure would effectively “support what is currently happening on the border.”

“This is a stopgap funding bill to keep government open and secure the border,” he told reporters. “I don’t know anyone who is opposed to that. I think that’s where people would want to be.”

At the same time, House Republicans finally broke the procedural logjam that had paralyzed the House for two weeks in a 216-212 vote, and began moving ahead with debate over four annual spending bills, in a nod to the demands of the hard-right flank of the party that had demanded lawmakers take up and pass individual appropriations bills.

But even if Republicans were able to pass them, which was far from certain, their approval would do nothing to alleviate the threat of a shutdown because there was not sufficient time to negotiate the measures with the Senate.

Senate leaders were hoping the strong bipartisan support for their interim funding bill would represent a show of strength to encourage McCarthy to take up the legislation if it reached the House. Some Senate Republicans backed it despite being uneasy that no new border security was included in the plan but saw moving ahead with the bill as a necessary first step toward skirting a shutdown most viewed as damaging as a matter of both politics and policy.

Senate negotiators had considered trying to move forward with a stopgap bill that would simply maintain funding at current levels, considering that might be the least complicated path for McCarthy.

But senators of both parties pressed for some assistance to Ukraine, arguing that to ignore the Biden administration’s request for more aid would be an affront to the U.S. ally after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a personal appeal to members of Congress just last week. Both the Ukraine money and disaster recovery funding are seen as down payments on the full amounts requested by the Biden administration — nearly $25 billion for Ukraine and $16 billion for the disaster recovery fund.

Senators also were hoping that the extra natural disaster aid would attract votes from those who have expressed opposition about backing more funding for Ukraine, but might be unwilling to vote against help for hard-hit states closer to home, such as Hawaii and Florida.

Still, the Ukraine assistance will complicate matters in the Senate. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a libertarian, has threatened to use procedural tools to challenge the aid, potentially delaying the Senate bill’s arrival in the House into the weekend.

The so-called continuing resolution would also extend authority for expiring Federal Aviation Administration programs through the end of the year, extend some community health programs and maintain higher pay for those fighting wildfires as the original source of the firefighting money is running low.

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