Congress clears bill to avert shutdown, with vote promised later on Ukraine aid

By: - September 30, 2023 3:45 pm
Sen. Mitch McConnell standing in the middle of senators in a large gallery.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, speaks with reporters about a stopgap government funding bill inside the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)

WASHINGTON — Congress approved a bill Saturday night that would stave off a government shutdown until at least mid-November, though the measure doesn’t include Ukraine aid backed by both Republicans and Democrats.

The bipartisan 88-9 vote in the U.S. Senate, just hours before a midnight deadline, took place after the U.S. House earlier in the day voted 335-91 to approve the legislation, with the support of members of both parties. President Joe Biden was expected to sign it into law later Saturday night.

Republican senators voting no included Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Mike Braun of Indiana, Ted Cruz of Texas, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Mike Lee of Utah, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Eric Schmitt of Missouri and J. D. Vance of Ohio.

In the Alabama delegation, U.S. Reps. Jerry Carl, R-Mobile; Mike Rogers, R-Saks; Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, and Dale Strong, R-Madison voted for the measure. U.S. Reps. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville; Barry Moore, R-Enterprise, and Gary Palmer, R-Hoover voted against it. U.S. Sens. Katie Britt and Tommy Tuberville, both Republicans, voted for the bill in the Senate.

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The stopgap spending legislation, unveiled Saturday morning in the House, does not provide any additional funding for military relief or humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The Senate’s original short-term funding bill had included $6.1 billion, which was significantly less than the $24 billion the Biden administration requested in August. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier this month traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers to reiterate the need for continued aid to support his country’s fight against the Russian invasion.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said he would put a supplemental spending bill for Ukraine on the floor as soon as next week.

“This is a bridge CR and Leader McConnell and I have agreed to continue fighting for more economic and security aid for Ukraine,” Schumer said. “We support Ukraine’s efforts to defend its sovereignty against Putin’s aggression.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said he expected the Senate would approve aid for Ukraine before the end of the year.

“Most Senate Republicans remain committed to helping our friends on the front lines, to investing more heavily in American strength that reinforces our allies and deterring our top strategic adversary, China,” McConnell said. “I’m confident the Senate will pass further urgent assistance to Ukraine later this year.”

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Whip Katherine Clark, Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar and Vice Chair Ted Lieu all called on House Republicans to put a Ukraine assistance bill up for a vote.

“​​When the House returns, we expect Speaker McCarthy to advance a bill to the House Floor for an up-or-down vote that supports Ukraine, consistent with his commitment to making sure that Vladimir Putin, Russia and authoritarianism are defeated,” they said in a joint statement.

Senate Republicans announced mid-day they would not support moving ahead with the original CR that included assistance for Ukraine. McConnell has been a vocal proponent of additional military and humanitarian aid for the country.

The Kentucky Republican told reporters that he had instructed GOP senators to vote against advancing the Senate’s own stopgap spending bill toward final passage.

“It looks like there may be a bipartisan agreement coming from the House,” McConnell said. “So I’m fairly confident that most of my members, our members, are going to vote against cloture — not necessarily because they’re opposed to the underlying bill, but to see what the House can do on a bipartisan basis, and then bring it over to us.”

A motion to adjourn, a fire alarm and a ‘magic minute’

House passage of the continuing resolution, or CR, came amid a hectic day on Capitol Hill.

Republicans began the morning huddling in a basement room of the Capitol to plot a path ahead, after failing to pass a separate stopgap spending bill Friday.

GOP leaders then brought the floor into session, giving just 40 minutes for debate on a new stopgap spending bill and infuriating Democrats, who argued they hadn’t been given time to read the 71-page measure.

“We have had 15 minutes to review a 71-page document,” House Appropriations Committee ranking member Rosa DeLauro said. “A document that was filed before midnight last night. There hasn’t been any time for staff to review a 71-page document on such an important issue.”

House Democratic Whip Katherine Clark, of Massachusetts, got more time for lawmakers to read the legislation before the House took the final vote by making a motion to adjourn.

Democrats were able to extend what should have been a 15-minute vote by waiting until it was almost over, then lining up on the House floor to vote on paper cards one-by-one, instead of electronically with their voting cards.

The final vote, which took about an hour, rejected the motion to adjourn, 0-427 after Democrats voted with Republicans to stay in session.

“We have just received a 71-page bill that is about keeping open our federal government, something the Democrats have been pushing for months,” Clark said before the vote began. “We are asking for 90 minutes to be able to read this bill and come to the floor with an informed vote. That has been denied. We have serious trust issues, so at this point in time, I am making a motion to adjourn.”

Adding to the feeling of chaos, New York Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman pulled a fire alarm in one of the House office buildings around noon as the vote on the motion to adjourn was beginning, causing the alarm to go off and for the building to be evacuated. The U.S. Capitol Police weren’t able to clear the building for reopening until more than an hour later.

His chief of staff said in a written statement posted to X that “Congressman Bowman did not realize he would trigger a building alarm as he was rushing to make an urgent vote. The Congressman regrets any confusion.”

After the vote on adjourning wrapped up, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat, delivered a so-called “magic minute” floor speech. As a member of leadership he can speak as long as he wants and it only subtracts one minute from Democrats’ total debate time.

The tactic has been used by both Democratic and Republican leaders to bring attention to an issue or to delay a final vote. Slowing down the vote on Saturday was intended to give Democrats more time to read the bill and appeared to also give congressional leaders time to determine how to move forward on the new continuing resolution.

The speech lasted about an hour, after which the House debated the legislation a bit longer, before sending it over to their Senate colleagues with just hours to go.

Far-right members of the House Republican Conference have been threatening to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy if he relied on Democrats to pass a short-term spending bill. But none of those members brought up the so-called motion to vacate on Saturday. The House after its vote adjourned until Monday.

Disaster relief, FAA extension

Senators had been slowly advancing their own bipartisan spending bill since releasing it Tuesday, though without the agreement of all 100 lawmakers in that chamber, the bill wouldn’t have become law before the Saturday midnight deadline.

The 71-page stopgap bill in the House released Saturday would fund the government through Friday, Nov. 17 and extend the authorization for the Federal Aviation Administration through Dec. 31.

It would provide $16 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund, the primary account for disaster relief and response. Wildland firefighters would not see a pay cut that was scheduled to begin on Oct. 1.

House Appropriations Chair Kay Granger, a Texas Republican, urged support for the legislation, saying during floor debate that while “a continuing resolution is not ideal, it prevents a harmful government shutdown.”

“It gives us more time to pass the appropriations bills on the floor of the House and allows us to start negotiations on final, full-year bills with the Senate,” Granger said.

Pay raise argument

DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, sharply criticized House Republicans for not adding a provision to the bill that bars members of Congress from getting a cost of living increase, calling it a pay raise.

“The Senate bill includes the blocking or prohibition on a member pay raise. That has been dropped from the bill that has just been proposed,” DeLauro said.

Nevada Republican Rep. Mark Amodei, chairman of the panel that funds Congress, said that was an incorrect reading of the legislation. But he later said the bill could be amended to include a paragraph explicitly prohibiting a cost-of-living adjustment for members of Congress.

“I guess, being generous here, out of an abundance of caution and respect for those bill-drafting experts in the Senate, fixing that to include the Senate’s genius language in this measure is something that’s imminently doable in short order,” he said.

The change was quickly agreed to on the House floor without any vote.

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Jennifer Shutt
Jennifer Shutt

Jennifer covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include congressional policy, politics and legal challenges with a focus on health care, unemployment, housing and aid to families.

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