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Congress averts government shutdown, but bruising battles over Ukraine, spending cuts still ahead

President Biden signed temporary spending bill giving lawmakers to mid-November to resolve disputes over Ukraine aid, spending cuts.

Published: September 30, 2023 8:37pm

Updated: October 1, 2023 1:03pm

With just hours to spare, Congress averted a government shutdown Saturday evening by passing a temporary spending bill that keeps agencies funded through mid-November as exhausted lawmakers deferred for a few weeks bruising battles over spending cuts, Ukraine war aid and possibly House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s future.

Defying media predictions, McCarthy maneuvered a last-minute continuing resolution (CR) and garnered significant support from Democrats to keep agencies’ doors open for 45 days and provide $16 billion in federal disaster aid to hard-hit American communities. But he cut out any new assistance for Ukraine’s war against Russia that the White House wanted.

The Senate followed a few hours later with its approval, and President Joe Biden signed the bill shortly before midnight to avert the shutdown.

“This is good news for the American people,” Biden said after inking the deal.

The vote in the House was 335-91, with 209 Democrats joining in approval and 90 Republicans opposed.

The measure buys time for lawmakers to resolve bitter disputes over the size of future aid to Ukraine as it tries to drive Russian invaders from its land and for Republicans to deliver on their promise to voters to cut spending and complete a normal budget process that reviews all 12 federal agency spending plans individually, something that hasn’t happened in years.

Emotions ran high inside the House GOP caucus.

“Leadership sweetened the pot (with your $ dollars) and we broke our word,” Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., wrote on social media after the vote, signaling the distaste of at least two dozen fiscal conservatives who wanted the House to complete the 12 spending bills before the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

Still, the deal was a win for McCarthy, whom the media predicted was headed to a government shutdown. Also, Saturday’s deal was a win for Republicans in Virginia, who are trying to recapture control of their legislature in the November election and feared a government shutdown would pose a death knell for that effort.

Still a few votes short, McCarthy earlier Saturday abandoned a GOP-only plan that would have cut agency spending and forced Biden to close down a porous southern border that has allowed millions of illegal immigrants to stream across since the Democrat took office.

The speaker’s decision to pass a bill with Democrats poses significant political risk. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., vowed Sunday that he would seek to oust Kevin McCarthy as House speaker.

“I do intend to file a motion to vacate against Speaker McCarthy this week,” Gaetz  told CNN. “I think we need to rip off the band-aid. I think we need to move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy.”

After the vote on Saturday, Gaetz accused McCarthy of violating the deal he made with conservatives in January to get the speakership, but was coy on whether he would pursue a motion to vacate the Speaker’s chair. Instead he implored House and Senate lawmakers to finish the job of reviewing the 12 federal spending bills before the new Nov. 17 a deadline.

“House conservatives made @SpeakerMcCarthy agree to spending guardrails in January. He has blown through those guardrails, which is what brought us to this moment,” he wrote on X.

“The only way to save America from financial ruin is to pass single-subject spending bills that are able to be reviewed at a programmatic level,” he added.

McCarthy defended the last-minute deal as necessary to keep troops funded and get disaster relief to hard-hit communities from Florida to Hawaii. But he also made clear he is committed to finishing the 12 spending bills as Gaetz and his faction of conservatives have sought since January.

"We need more time to get the job done," McCarthy told reporters.

Later, he added on X: “I just signed and sent this short-term stop-gap bill to the White House in order to fund our troops, deliver emergency relief, and keep government open while Congress gets back to work through regular order.”

Florida GOP Rep. Byron Donalds ripped the short-term stopgap measure passed by the House and Senate, saying Republicans got nothing out of it. 

"Look, I'm gonna be honest. We did not get anything out of this continued resolution," Donalds said on "Fox News Sunday." 

"The border is still unsecured in our country," he added. "Why is that? That's because Joe Biden and the Democrats got their way. The Democrat members are very happy with what they got. I think this is a terrible deal for the American people."

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