How Congress averted a government shutdown

WASHINGTON – In a stunning turn of events and in an 11th-hour push, Congress averted a government shutdown with just hours to spare.

The Republican-controlled House, where most of the vicious funding fight took place, lawmakers made no progress for weeks. As House Republicans made attempt after attempt, hardline conservatives constantly tanked their efforts to pass a funding deal, even as the Sept. 30 funding deadline drew closer.

As unproductive days passed, lawmakers slowly resigned themselves to an impending shutdown, given how they were making no progress and time was running short.

But within 12 hours of a shutdown, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., made a surprise announcement that he was going to put a short-term stopgap measure up for a vote to keep the government funded at current levels, a move he was hesitant to make in fear of further angering his right flank. Both the House and Senate soon overwhelmingly approved the measure on a bipartisan basis, avoiding a shutdown and buying lawmakers more time to hash out a year-long funding deal.

Here’s how Congress managed to avoid a government shutdown, even when it seemed all but certain.

U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks with members of the media following passage in the House of a 45-day continuing resolution on September 30, 2023 in Washington, DC.

House divided in negotiations all week, left in defeat Friday

House lawmakers were divided all week.

McCarthy said Tuesday night the House would look to pass a stopgap measure – referred to as a continuing resolution – that included border security provisions and would have temporarily funded the government until Oct. 31.

“I want to keep the government open. I want to do the job,” he said at the time.

The measure had dim prospects on the House floor due to Republican’s razor-thin, four-seat majority. A handful of hard-right conservatives, more than the four votes McCarthy could afford to lose, said they would never support a continuing resolution under any circumstances.

Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., one of the hardliners who vowed to oppose a continuing resolution, told USA TODAY Friday he would rather have Congress take the time to pass the 12 appropriation bills, even if it meant doing so during a government shutdown. Rosendale downplayed the effects of a shutdown as a “government slowdown.”

Meanwhile, members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group evenly divided between centrist Democrats and Republicans, had their own version of a continuing resolution on the back burner. If lawmakers were unable to avert a shutdown, co-chair of the caucus, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., said the group would have attempted to force the bill on the floor through archaic procedural moves if it looked like Congress was unable to avert a shutdown.

“We gotta find a way to get the two-party bill on the floor. And we’ll see if it happens on it’s own. If it doesn’t, then we’ll do what we need to do,” Fitzpatrick told reporters Friday.

Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., talks reporters after attending an afternoon Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on September 29, 2023 in Washington, DC.

The week ended with the House failing to pass the continuing resolution on Friday after 21 Republicans, including a faction of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, voted against it.

Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., singled out Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., for the measure failing.

“Unfortunately a handful of people and in particular a party of one, Matt Gaetz, have chosen to put his own agenda, his own personal agenda above all else,” Lawler told reporters Friday. “There’s only one person to blame for any potential government shutdown and that’s Matt Gaetz. He’s not a conservative Republican. He’s a charlatan.”

After the measure failed, GOP leadership held a closed-door conference meeting later that afternoon to discuss options on averting a shutdown. In a display of how divided the House GOP conference was, most of the 21 Republicans who voted against the continuing resolution did not attend the meeting.

Members left the meeting largely unsure, frustrated or resigned as it seemed there was no clear plan that could earn the support of enough Republicans.

Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., a member of the Freedom Caucus who supported the continuing resolution, left the meeting visibly irritated, saying the meeting “did not go well,” and said the options presented to avert a shutdown were worse than the continuing resolution that had just failed on the House floor.

Even though GOP lawmakers were hopeful they could find some deal to avoid a shutdown, after the meeting it looked like Congress was virtually out of time to pass a funding deal.

“I think it’s pretty safe to say that tomorrow at midnight, the lights are going to go out for a while,” Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., a senior appropriator, told reporters.

At that point, it seemed it would take a miracle to avoid a shutdown.

Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., speaks to reporters as he arrives to a Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol Building on September 13, 2023 in Washington, DC.

House GOP and a closed-door meeting Saturday

On Saturday morning, House Republicans held another closed-door conference meeting to discuss the shutdown and ways to avert one. As members slowly filed into the meeting room, pessimism among GOP lawmakers only seemed to heighten as there was no clear resolution in sight.

“I’m pretty pessimistic about it truth be told. Unfortunate. It’s not what the American people deserve,” Rep. Greg Murphy, R-N.C., told reporters.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., left the meeting early and told reporters there were a handful of hardline conservatives who wouldn’t vote for a stopgap measure under any circumstances.

The focus at that point, he said, was to mitigate the effects of a shutdown.

House Republicans would look at what was “passable” on the floor, suggesting the House would vote to sustain troop pay and reauthorization for the Federal Aviation Agency first.

“It is our obligation to anticipate and do whatever we can to mitigate it,” Issa said.

But near the end of the meeting, lawmakers trickling out of the room said the plan was for McCarthy to put forward a “clean” short-term stopgap measure to keep government funding at current levels. McCarthy, who exited the meeting after it ended, confirmed the new plan and said would be considered on the House floor within the next hour. It is unclear what caused the significant shift in strategy in such a short amount of time.

The stopgap measure would keep the government funded at current levels through Nov. 17 and included President Joe Biden’s request for $16 billion in additional disaster relief funding, but omitted additional aid for Ukraine.

The measure, which would be considered under suspension to expedite the process, required two-thirds of the chamber to be approved, meaning the bill would have to pass on a largely bipartisan basis.

Gaetz threatened to oust McCarthy if he worked with Democrats to pass a continuing resolution that would avert a shutdown and give lawmakers extra time to pass spending bills.

However, a defiant McCarthy told reporters after the Saturday morning conference meeting that he was being “the adult in the room“

“If I have to risk my job for standing up for the American public, I will do that,” McCarthy said, daring his detractors to “go ahead and try” to remove him from his post.

Gaetz scoffed at McCarthy’s remarks, telling reporters later that day “there’s nothing about delaying this process that is being the adult in the room.”

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., enters the hearing room before Gina Raimondo, the Secretary of Commerce at the U.S. Department of Commerce, arrived for testimony to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing: Chips on the Table: A one year review of the Chips and Science Act on Sept. 19, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

Democrats try to delay, House vote eventually passes

In a bid to buy more time for House Democrats to read a 71-page stopgap measure before it was considered, Democrats forced a procedural vote on a motion to adjourn – without the intention to adjourn – to delay the vote on the stopgap to read through the bill.

House Minority Whip Katherine Clark, D-Mass., said Democrats had “serious trust issues” on the legislation. To stall even further, Democratic lawmakers slowly trickled into the chamber to vote to stall even further.

After the motion to adjourn failed, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., used what is referred to as a “magic minute” where under House rules, leadership can speak for an unlimited amount of time.

“Strap in, because this may take a while,” Jeffries said before addressing the House floor for almost an hour.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., pulled the fire alarm in the Cannon House office building, causing an evacuation. Capitol police said in a statement they are investigating the incident.

Emma Simon, Bowman’s spokesperson, later said in a statement that Bowman “did not realize he would trigger a building alarm as he was rushing to make an urgent vote.”

Despite the delays, voting on the stopgap measure began in the House just before 2:30 p.m. About 20 minutes later, the resolution passed 335 to 91, with just one Democrat voting in opposition over the bill’s lack of U.S. aid to Ukraine.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., speaks at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol Building following passage in the House of a 45-day continuing resolution on September 30, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Senate seals the deal hours before deadline

Just four hours before the midnight deadline, Senators gathered on the floor to vote.

The Senate began with brief remarks from Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., both of whom urged their members to support the continuing resolution.

“I’m confident the Senate will pass further urgent assistance to Ukraine later this year,” McConnell said on the floor. “But let’s be clear, the alternative to our action today — an entirely avoidable government shutdown — would not just pause our progress on these important priorities, it would actually set them back. And in the process, it would saddle the people we represent with unnecessary hardships.”

The short-term measure passed the Senate 88 to 9 and was then signed by Biden, effectively averting a shutdown and extending the government’s current funding through Nov. 17.

“The American people can breathe a sigh of relief. There will be no government shutdown,” Schumer said after the vote was officially called.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: In a stunning turn of events, Congress avoided a shutdown. Here’s how

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