US Congress poised to narrowly avert government shutdown with just hours to go

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy proposed the temporary bill on Saturday

By Antoinette Radford, Sam Cabral & Anthony Zurcher

BBC News, London and Washington

With just hours go before the US government is due to shut down, the House of Representatives has agreed a short-term funding deal.

A bill that keeps the government funded until mid-November but includes no new aid for Ukraine was approved in the chamber by a vote of 335 to 91.

The measure has to be approved by the upper congressional chamber, the Senate, but is expected to pass.

Once signed into law, it will avert a disruption of federal services.

A shutdown, which would place tens of thousands of federal employees on furlough without pay and suspend various government services, was slated to begin at 00:01 ET (04:01 GMT) on Sunday.

Shutdowns happen both chambers of Congress are unable to agree on the roughly 30% of federal spending they must approve before the start of each fiscal year on 1 October.

With Republicans holding a slim majority in the House and Democrats holding the Senate by a single seat, any funding measure needs buy-in from both parties.

Repeated efforts to pass spending bills in the House have been thwarted in recent weeks by a rebel faction of right-wing lawmakers, who have demanded significant cuts, including no more funding for Ukraine’s defence against its invasion by Russia.

In a dramatic turnaround on Saturday afternoon, House Republicans scrambled to pass a temporary funding measure to keep the government open for 45 more days, which also makes no major concessions on spending levels.

It was backed by more Democrats than Republicans in the House, with as many as 90 Republicans voting against it.

Relying on Democratic votes to pass the bill was a move House Speaker Kevin McCarthy had been extremely reluctant to make until the last minute, given this would anger the most conservative members of his party.

But Democrats did not get everything they wanted. In order to avoid a shutdown, they had to abandon their hopes of providing further military aid to Ukraine.

They and Republicans who also support more Ukraine money will keep pressing for more funding, but officials in the administration of President Joe Biden have warned that in the short term, there could be disruption to the Ukrainian war effort.

“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,” a White House official told the BBC’s US partner CBS News.

Chaos had engulfed Capitol Hill ahead of the vote as members of both parties sought clarity on the best path forward to avert a shutdown.

As House Democrats complained that they were unable to read Republicans’ latest offer before voting on it, one – Jamaal Bowman of New York – appeared to have pulled a fire alarm in one building to buy more time.

A spokesperson from Mr Bowman’s office said he “did not realize he would trigger a building alarm as he was rushing to make an urgent vote. The Congressman regrets any confusion”.

Lawmakers in the Senate are expected to quickly take up the bill and attempt to pass it on Saturday, so it can be rushed to President Biden’s desk for his signature.

Assuming the Senate follows the House’s lead and quickly approves its short-term bill, the government will stay open – at least for now.

But this drama is likely to be repeated in 45 days, however, as fundamental disagreements over government spending levels and policies between Republicans and Democrats, and among Republicans themselves, have not been resolved.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz (centre) has publicly threatened to oust Kevin McCarthy (right) as Speaker

In the meantime, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz and hard-line conservatives in the House have a decision to make.

Mr McCarthy’s decision to rely on Democratic votes to pass the short-term bill was supposedly a red line that, if crossed, would prompt a right-wing rebellion in the House and an attempt to remove Mr McCarthy from his leadership position.

The days ahead will reveal whether Mr Gaetz and company were serious about their threat – or just bluffing.


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