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How We Avoided a Government Shutdown. (For now.)
Congress kicks the can down the road until November. Plus, keep your eyes on Ukraine funding.
In a chaotic, mad dash on Saturday, Congress averted a government shutdown—at least until November 17. After tumultuous meetings and lots of Republican infighting—all under the lingering threat to depose House Speaker Kevin McCarthy—both the House and Senate passed a continuing resolution to give themselves more time to squabble on the federal budget so that we can do this all again just before Thanksgiving.
Here are the vital stats:
The legislation funds the government at the current (fiscal year 2023) levels for 45 more days.
There is no Ukraine aid attached.
Examine these three points individually and you can already see some of the problems Congress and the president are going to face in the weeks ahead.
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First, the continuing resolution doesn’t mean a shutdown won’t still happen this year. The new deadline of November 17 is less than two months away, a short period of time on Capitol Hill, and members of Congress have a habit of not getting their acts together until the very last minute. As we’ve seen this week. And during last spring’s debt ceiling fight and frankly several other times every year. The budget fight that culminated on Saturday is going to be replayed again very soon—and next time McCarthy might not be there to cave and/or Democrats might not be there to bail him out.
Second, the fact that McCarthy put a “clean” continuing resolution on the floor is sure to anger many of the Freedom Caucus members, like Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who have repeatedly threatened a motion to vacate if they didn’t get their way. In an interview Sunday with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Gaetz said he will file the motion this week. Up in the air is the possibility that Democrats might throw McCarthy a life preserver. For what it’s worth, Gaetz had been testing the waters on a motion to vacate by talking up Democrats on the floor during votes this week. Gaetz and 89 of his other Republican colleagues voted against the CR.
McCarthy allowing the CR to go to the floor and pass with Democrats doing the heavy lifting is not good for his future prospects. The 90 Republicans who voted against it did so out of opposition to a CR of any kind or because they wanted additional border security reforms. They got neither. A lot of these Republicans are known to hold grudges and act out in grand displays of defiance. After holding Republican rule votes hostage earlier this year, they’re running low on options that don’t involve a dethronement of McCarthy.
Third, the absence of Ukraine aid is significant. The actual dollar amount isn’t—the $300 million that would have gone to Ukraine is just a small fraction of the budget—but it shows how far off the deep end the Republican party has become on this issue. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted to hold firm as the upper chamber was gearing up for its own continuing resolution with Ukraine aid attached. But when he polled his Republican colleagues in the Senate on whether it was worth fighting for, a majority of the conference overruled him, including one his top deputies, Sen. John Thune (R-SD). McConnell is rarely put in such a position by his Senate Republican colleagues.
This change shows how drastically the GOP has changed on what was once a pillar of its foreign policy platform (i.e., funding pro-Western governments fighting back against Russian aggression). Now, the primary opposition to financially backing Ukraine in the United States is coming solely from the GOP—and this movement has enough support to overrule the Republican leadership.
However, U.S. aid to Ukraine is not dead. Senate Democrats are gearing up to move supplemental legislation to fund the war effort as soon as this coming week. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) briefly held up the CR vote’s momentum in exchange for a commitment to take up a forthcoming Ukraine supplemental. Democrats in both chambers are now preparing for an up or down vote on Ukraine aid.