Washington: The US narrowly averted a disruptive and costly shutdown of federal agencies as Congress passed compromise legislation to keep the government running until Nov. 17.
The legislation, passed in both chambers Saturday just hours before a midnight deadline, buys Democrats and Republicans time to negotiate longer-term federal funding. It doesn't include new funding for Ukraine.
President Joe Biden signed the bill late Saturday night, capping an extraordinary day in Washington that began with the country careening to what appeared to be an inevitable and prolonged federal funding lapse.
"Tonight, bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate voted to keep the government open, preventing an unnecessary crisis that would have inflicted needless pain on millions of hardworking Americans," Biden said in a statement.
Final passage by the Senate was set in motion earlier in the day by embattled House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who called the bluff of the far-right Republicans and pushed the last-minute compromise. They'd threatened to oust him from leadership if he didn't shut down the government, a move most in Congress see as highly unpopular with voters.
"If somebody wants to remove me because I want to be the adult in the room, go ahead and try," McCarthy told reporters.
In unusually swift action in the typically slow-moving Capitol, the bill made it through both chambers in less than 12 hours.
"Total roller coaster," Representative Guy Reschenthaler, the House GOP chief deputy whip, said of the day's events.
The bill passed the Senate on an 88-9 vote, just hours after an overwhelming House vote that included nearly all Democrats and more than half of Republicans.
The legislation includes $16 billion in disaster relief funding but not aid for Ukraine. Lawmakers in both parties who support the Ukraine funding said that would be handled separately.
The House voted 335-91 to fund the government through Nov. 17, with more Democrats than Republicans supporting it.
That move marked a profound shift from earlier in the week, when a shutdown looked all but inevitable. A shutdown would mean that most of the government's 4 million employees would not get paid - whether they were working or not - and also would shutter a range of federal services, from National Parks to financial regulators.
Federal agencies had already drawn up detailed plans that spell out what services would continue, such as airport screening and border patrols, and what must shut down, including scientific research and nutrition aid to 7 million poor mothers.
"The American people can breathe a sigh of relief: there will be no government shutdown tonight," Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the vote. "Democrats have said from the start that the only solution for avoiding a shutdown is bipartisanship, and we are glad Speaker McCarthy has finally heeded our message." democrats call it a win
Democrats call it a win
Some 209 Democrats supported the bill, far more than the 126 Republicans who did so, and Democrats described the result as a win.
"Extreme MAGA Republicans have lost, the American people have won," top House Democrat Hakeem Jeffries told reporters ahead of the vote, referring to the "Make America Great Again" slogan used by former President Donald Trump and many hardline Republicans.
Democratic Representative Don Beyer said: I am relieved that Speaker McCarthy folded and finally allowed a bipartisan vote at the 11th hour on legislation to stop Republicans' rush to a disastrous shutdown." McCarthy's shift won the support of top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell, who had backed a similar measure that was moving through the Senate with broad bipartisan support, even though the House version dropped aid for Ukraine.
Democratic Senator Michael Bennett held the bill up for several hours trying to negotiate a deal for further Ukraine aid.
"While I would have preferred to pass a bill now with additional assistance for Ukraine, which has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, it is easier to help Ukraine with the government open than if it were closed," Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen said in a statement.
McCarthy dismissed concerns that hardline Republicans could try to oust him as leader.
"I want to be the adult in the room, go ahead and try," McCarthy told reporters. "And you know what? If I have to risk my job for standing up for the American public, I will do that." He said that House Republicans would push ahead with plans to pass more funding bills that would cut spending and include other conservative priorities, such as tighter border controls.
The standoff comes just months after Congress brought the federal government to the brink of defaulting on its $31.4 trillion debt. The drama has raised worries on Wall Street, where the Moody's ratings agency has warned it could damage UScreditworthiness.
Congress typically passes stopgap spending bills to buy more time to negotiate the detailed legislation that sets funding for federal programs.
This year, a group of Republicans has blocked action in the House as they have pressed to tighten immigration and cut spending below levels agreed to in the debt-ceiling standoff in the spring.
The threat was set aside late Saturday after Congress voted to keep agencies open until Nov. 17. Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., dropped demands for steep spending cuts and relied on Democratic votes for House passage, before the Senate easily approved the measure Saturday night.
House Republicans, fueled by hard-right demands for lower spending, had been forcing a confrontation over federal spending.
In a shutdown, some government entities would be exempt — Social Security checks, for example, would still go out — and other functions would be severely curtailed. Federal agencies would cease all actions deemed nonessential, and many of the federal government’s roughly 2 million employees, as well as 2 million active-duty military troops and reservists, would not receive paychecks.
The McCarthy-Biden deal that avoided default set a limit of $1.59 trillion in discretionary spending in fiscal 2024. House Republicans are demanding a further $120 billion in cuts.
The funding fight focuses on a relatively small slice of the $6.4 trillion US budget for this fiscal year. Lawmakers are not considering cuts to popular benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
"We should never have been in this position in the first place. Just a few months ago, Speaker McCarthy and I reached a budget agreement to avoid precisely this type of manufactured crisis," Biden said in a statement after the vote. "House Republicans tried to walk away from that deal by demanding drastic cuts that would have been devastating for millions of Americans. They failed."
US government shutdown is averted for now with a temporary funding bill. What happens in a shutdown?
WHAT IS A GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN?
A shutdown happens when Congress fails to pass some type of funding legislation that is signed into law by the president. Lawmakers are supposed to pass 12 different spending bills to fund agencies across the government, but the process is time-consuming. They often resort to passing a temporary extension, called a continuing resolution or CR, to allow the government to keep operating.
When no funding legislation is enacted, federal agencies must stop all nonessential work and would not send paychecks as long as the shutdown would last.
Although employees deemed essential to public safety such as air traffic controllers and law enforcement officers still have to report to work, other federal employees are furloughed. Under a 2019 law, those workers are slated to receive backpay once the funding impasse is resolved.
WHEN WOULD A SHUTDOWN BEGIN AND HOW LONG COULD IT LAST?
Government funding expires Oct. 1, the start of the federal budget year. A shutdown would have begun at 12:01 a.m. Sunday if Congress didn't pass a funding plan that the president could sign into law. The House and Senate averted this by approving a temporary funding bill keeping federal agencies open until Nov. 17, setting up another potential crisis if they fail to more fully fund government by then.
There were fears that a potential stoppage could last weeks.
WHO DOES A SHUTDOWN AFFECT?
Millions of federal workers would face delayed paychecks, including many of the roughly 2 million military personnel and more than 2 million civilian workers across the nation.
Nearly 60% of federal workers are stationed in the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security.
While the military's active-duty troops and reservists would continue to work, more than half of the Department of Defense's civilian workforce — roughly 440,000 people — would be furloughed.
Across federal agencies, workers are stationed in all 50 states and have direct interaction with taxpayers — from Transportation Security Administration agents who operate security at airports to Postal Service workers who deliver mail.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has said new training for air traffic controllers would have to be halted and an additional 1,000 controllers in the midst of training would have to be furloughed.
People applying for government services like clinical medical trials, firearm permits and passports could see delays if there was a shutdown.
Head Start programs serving more than 10,000 disadvantaged children would immediately lose federal funding. National parks would close.
Some federal offices would have to close or face shortened hours during a shutdown.
Businesses closely connected to the federal government, such as federal contractors or tourist services around national parks, could see disruptions and downturns.
Lawmakers warned that a shutdown could rattle financial markets. Goldman Sachs estimated that a shutdown would reduce economic growth by 0.2% every week it lasted, but growth would then bounce back after the government reopens.
Others say any disruption in government services would have far-reaching impacts because it would shake confidence in the government to fulfill its basic duties.
WHAT ABOUT COURT CASES, THE WORK OF CONGRESS AND PRESIDENTIAL PAY?
The president and members of Congress would continue to work and get paid. Any members of their staff who were not deemed essential would be furloughed.
The Supreme Court would be unaffected by a short shutdown because it can draw on a pot of money provided by court fees, including charges for filing lawsuits and other documents, court spokeswoman Patricia McCabe said.
Even in a longer shutdown, the entire judiciary would not shut down, and decisions about what activities would continue would be made by each court around the country. The justices and all federal judges would continue to be paid because of the constitutional prohibition on reducing judges’ pay during their tenure, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Funding for the three special counsels appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland would not be affected by a government shutdown because they are paid for through a permanent, indefinite appropriation, an area that has been exempted from shutdowns in the past.
That would mean that the two federal cases against Donald Trump , the former president, as well as the case against Hunter Biden , the son of President Joe Biden , would not be interrupted. Trump has demanded that Republicans defund the prosecutions against him as a condition of funding the government, declaring it their “last chance” to act.
HAS THIS HAPPENED BEFORE?
Before the 1980s, lapses in government funding did not result in government operations significantly shuttering. But then-Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, in a series of legal opinions in 1980 and 1981, argued that government agencies cannot legally operate during a funding gap.
Federal officials have since operated under an understanding they can make exemptions for functions that are “essential” for public safety and constitutional duties.
Since 1976, there have been 22 funding gaps, with 10 of them leading to workers being furloughed. But most of the significant shutdowns have taken place since Bill Clinton's presidency, when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich. R-Ga., and his conservative House majority demanded budget cuts.
The longest government shutdown happened between 2018 and 2019 when then-President Trump and congressional Democrats entered a standoff over his demand for funding for a border wall . The disruption lasted 35 days, through the holiday season, but was also only a partial government shutdown because Congress had passed some appropriations bills to fund parts of the government.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO END A SHUTDOWN?
It's the responsibility of Congress to fund the government. The House and Senate have to agree to fund the government, and the president has to sign the legislation into law.
Congress often has relied on a continuing resolution to provide stopgap money to open government offices at current levels as budget talks are underway. Money for pressing national priorities, such as emergency assistance for victims of natural disasters, is often attached to a short-term bill.