Congress dodged a federal shutdown but more spending fights and House infighting are in the offing

Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s “clean” bill that stopped a partial government shutdown bought Congress more time to strike a deal on full-year funding, but the intense fight over federal spending isn’t going away and the rebellion within the House Republican Conference is heating up.

Mr. McCarthy now faces an insurrection that could get him tossed out of the top job in the House this week. What’s more, the pressure is on House Republicans to muscle through the full-year appropriations bills and confront the Democrat-run Senate and President Biden over federal debt and spending.

Mr. Biden’s signature on the bill in the waning hours of Saturday capped a week of drama on Capitol Hill and gave lawmakers until Nov. 17 to finish work on spending legislation for fiscal 2024, which began Sunday. 

The president cast the surprising turn of events in the House as a Democratic victory over “MAGA Republicans.”

“The last few days and weeks extreme MAGA Republicans tried to walk away from that deal,” he said. “Voting for deep drastic spending cuts … that would have been devastating for millions of Americans. They failed again. They failed again and we stopped them. But I’m under no illusions that they’ll be back again,” Mr. Biden said Sunday.

Congress could easily bring the federal government to the brink of a partial shutdown again in just six weeks.

SEE ALSO: Matt Gaetz to try to oust Kevin McCarthy as speaker this week, payback for making deals with Dems

Mr. McCarthy’s gambit — turning to Democrats to pass the 11th-hour reprieve from a partial shutdown — has for now spared the 2 million federal employees and 1.3 million active-duty service members from furloughs, stopped travels from getting more bogged down at airports and prevented an interruption in child care service for roughly 10,000 children in the federal Head Start program.

He offered up the “clean” bill without spending cuts or policy changes for a vote Saturday after 21 hardline conservatives on Friday rejected a bill that catered to Republicans with a 30% cut to domestic spending and border security measures.

Mr. McCarthy blamed the rebels in his conference for forcing him to enlist Democratic votes.

“If you have members in your conference that won’t let you vote for appropriations … and won’t vote for a stopgap measure, the only answer is to shut down and not pay our troops. I don’t want to be a part of that team. I want to be a part of the conservative group that wants to get things done,” Mr. McCarthy said Saturday after the bill passed the House.

The stopgap bill includes $16 billion in disaster aid, which meets Mr. Biden’s earlier emergency funding request. It also continues government spending at the same level as in the now-lapsed fiscal 2023.

Mr. McCarthy’s foes in the GOP conference said continuing 2023 spending levels was a continuation of the budget written by Mr. Biden and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

SEE ALSO: Ukraine takes U.S. funding block in stride after Hill vote

The temporary funding bill passed the House in a 335-91 vote, with all the no votes cast by Republicans. In the Senate, it passed in an 88-9 vote with Republicans again casting all the votes against the bill.

The senators who voted no were 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. 

The stopgap bill did not include the extra money for Ukraine that Mr. Biden and his Democrats wanted. Faced with a choice of funding the U.S. government or Ukraine, Democrats unanimously picked the U.S. and voted for the “clean” spending bill.

House Democrats now say they want to get to vote on a Ukraine aid package after helping avert a shutdown.

“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,” House Democratic leaders said in a joint statement Saturday. 

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican who is leading a rebellion to oust Mr. McCarthy, accused the speaker of cutting a secret deal with Democrats.

Mr. McCarthy said Sunday that he supports helping Ukraine fight the Russian invaders but that he wants to secure the U.S. border first.

“I’m going to make sure that the weapons are provided for Ukraine, but they’re not going to get some big package if the border is not secure,” Mr. McCarthy said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” 

Ukraine aid, which faces stiff opposition from House Republicans, is only a piece of the federal spending puzzle.

Normally, Congress passes stopgap bill after stopgap bill to keep the government open until lawmakers eventually agree on a colossal spending package known as an omnibus that includes all 12 annual spending bills.

Mr. McCarthy has pledged to break that trend.

The House has passed four of the 12 spending bills. Mr. McCarthy canceled the upcoming October recess to force lawmakers to buckle down and finish the remaining bills. He also produced a schedule for advancing the bills after members of the House Freedom Caucus demanded a plan. 

Meanwhile, the Senate has not passed a single spending bill, but Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer of New York has primed a package of three spending bills to head to the floor. 

Mr. McCarthy said it was totally up to the Senate whether the government would be on the brink of a shutdown again in November.

“It all comes down to the Senate,” Mr. McCarthy said on the CBS show. “The Senate hasn’t done one thing.”

The two chambers have opposing views on spending caps set in the debt ceiling deal brokered by the speaker and White House. The Republican-run House wants deep spending cuts but the Senate wants to spend up to the caps. That sets up a fierce spending fight to reconcile the House and Senate bills. 

Mr. McCarthy also must contend with Mr. Gaetz, who has churned up dissent against the speaker and vowed to file a motion to remove Mr. McCarthy as speaker, what is known in Congress jargon as a motion to vacate the chair.

The trigger for Mr. Gaetz’s motion was pulled when the speaker turned to Democrats to prevent a partial government shutdown. Mr. Gaetz led a contingent of hardcore conservatives who vowed to never vote for stopgap legislation. They wanted to pass the full-year bills individually while the government was shuttered. 

Mr. McCarthy said he was confident he would survive the effort to oust him.

• Mallory Wilson contributed to this report.

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