Senate gathers to advance bipartisan stopgap spending bill to avert shutdown

The Senate and the House reconvened on Saturday in a last-ditch effort to extend federal funding, with less than 12 hours left to prevent a government shutdown.

The Senate was scheduled to hold a vote at 1pm ET on a stopgap spending bill, which would keep the government open until 17 November and provide some funding for Ukraine’s war efforts as well as disaster relief aid. Unless both chambers of Congress can pass a stopgap bill, known as a continuing resolution, before midnight, the government will shut down.

Meanwhile, in the House, the Republican speaker, Kevin McCarthy, was moving forward on Saturday with a separate stopgap bill that would also extend funding through 17 November and allocate $16bn for disaster aid. The House bill does not include additional funding for Ukraine, which has become a source of outrage among hard-right lawmakers.

McCarthy will introduce the bill under suspension of the rules, meaning he will need the support of two-thirds of House members to advance the proposal. Given that high threshold, McCarthy will need some Democratic votes to get the bill passed.

“I do not believe the American public should be punished, so I want to keep government open,” McCarthy told reporters on Saturday morning. “What I am asking Republicans and Democrats alike: put your partisanship away, focus on the American public.”

The lack of Ukraine funding in McCarthy’s bill will be a sore spot for Democrats, but time is against them. Even if the Senate advances its bill, the upper chamber will not be able to move to a final vote until Sunday, due to procedural hurdles. Because of the ticking clock, McCarthy’s proposal may represent the best option to avoid a shutdown at midnight.

“The Senate cannot bring us a bill before shutdown,” McCarthy said. “Government will shut down if we wait. I do not want that on our watch.”

The rare weekend session comes one day after the House failed to pass McCarthy’s initial stopgap bill, which would have extended government funding for another month while enacting steep spending cuts on most federal agencies.

McCarthy’s proposal was rejected by 21 House Republicans, as hard-right members continued to insist they will not support a continuing resolution. It appeared unlikely that those members would back McCarthy’s new stopgap proposal on Saturday, which would force the speaker to rely even more on Democratic support to get the bill passed. Hard-right Republicans have threatened to oust the speaker if he teams up with Democrats to keep the government open, but McCarthy downplayed that threat on Saturday.

“If somebody wants to remove [me] because I want to be the adult in the room, go ahead and try,” McCarthy said. “But I think this country is too important.”

Ahead of the Saturday session, the Democratic Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, called on McCarthy to embrace bipartisanship to keep the government open.

“The speaker has spent weeks catering to the hard right, and now he finds himself in the exact same position he’s been in since the beginning: no plan forward, no closer to passing something that avoids a shutdown,” Schumer said on Friday. “The speaker needs to abandon his doomed mission of trying to please [“Make America Great Again”] extremists, and instead, he needs to work across the aisle to keep the government open.”

The blockade staged by hard-right lawmakers has sparked frustration among more moderate members of their House conference, and even the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, has urged his party to move forward.

“All this week, and every time we’ve found ourselves in this situation before, I’ve offered my colleagues the same warning: shutting down the government doesn’t help anybody politically,” McConnell said on Friday. “Congress has an opportunity right now: to pay our servicemembers, border security personnel, and other essential workers, to keep important government functions running.”

As lawmakers remained at an impasse, the federal government was bracing for the possibility of the first shutdown in nearly five years. The White House has warned that a shutdown will force hundreds of thousands of government workers to go without pay, jeopardize access to vital nutritional programs and delay disaster relief projects.

“Extreme House Republicans are solely – solely – to blame for marching us toward a shutdown. That is what we’re seeing right now,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said on Friday.

Senator John Fetterman, a Democrat of Pennsylvania, similarly blamed Republicans for a potential shutdown – although he used more colorful language to describe his congressional colleagues.

“The damage to our nation’s reputation and critical programming, and chaos for America’s families is because of a small group of [Republican] peckerheads in the House,” Fetterman said on Saturday. “This national upheaval is inflicted by choice over nothing except Fox News face time and tributes to the lunatic fringe from their district.”

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