With just days to go to avert a government shutdown, Senate Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly voted to advance a bill to fund the government through mid-November.
But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who is attempting to pass funding legislation of his own in the Republican-controlled House while trying to fight off a far-right rebellion in his ranks, called the Senate's bill a nonstarter.
"I don’t see the support in the House," the California Republican told reporters Wednesday of the Senate's bill as he teed up a vote on a competing short-term funding measure.
The Senate voted 77-19 to advance a 79-page bill, unveiled Tuesday afternoon, that would continue government funding at current levels through Nov. 17 in order to buy time for lawmakers to come to a consensus on a full year spending bill.
The measure — known as a continuing resolution — includes roughly $6 billion in funding for Ukraine and $6 billion for FEMA disaster assistance, while also extending Federal Aviation Administration programs set to expire on Saturday. It would also extend funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which serves nearly 7 million women and children.
A shutdown would be nothing short of a catastrophe for American families, our national security, and our economy. It is critical that we avoid one, and that’s exactly what this bipartisan legislation will do,” said Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “While we continue work on annual appropriations bills to address our country’s full needs in the year ahead, this legislation prevents a shutdown, keeps our government funded, and provides critical dollars to support communities struck by disaster and support Ukraine at a pivotal moment in its defensive efforts against Putin’s brutal, unprovoked war of aggression.
If the government shuts down, it would halt paychecks for millions of federal workers, leave 2 million active duty military troops and reservists to work without pay, close down many federal offices, and leave Americans who rely on the government in ways large and small in the lurch.
"This bill ensures wildland firefighters will not see a pay cut, and it prevents critical laws from lapsing to ensure the FAA and community health centers can continue operating," she added. "We have much more to do, but we should pass this legislation immediately—there is no time to waste."
The White House celebrated the bill advancing and urged the House to take up the measure swiftly.
"The Senate’s bipartisan continuing resolution will keep the government open, make a down payment on disaster relief, and is an important show of support for Ukraine," said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a statement. "House Republicans should join the Senate in doing their job, stop playing political games with peoples’ lives, and abide by the bipartisan deal two-thirds of them voted for in May."
Hardline House Republicans say they're not interested in the Senate's bill, demanding deeper spending cuts and policies to secure the U.S.-Mexico in any legislation to fund the government.
"Just because the Senate sends it over to the House does not mean we have to accept anything on their terms," said conservative firebrand Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
"The two chambers are a long way apart," said Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, the chairman of the House Rules Committee. "I'm not at all confident we won't end up in a shutdown."
McCarthy laid out his strategy Wednesday behind closed doors, urging his unruly Republican majority to work together. He set up a test vote for Friday, one day before Saturday's shutdown deadline, on a far-right bill. It would slash federal spending by 8% from many agencies and toughen border security but has been rejected by President Joe Biden, Democrats and his own right-flank Republicans.
“I want to solve the problem,” McCarthy told reporters afterward at the Capitol.
But pressed on how he would pass a partisan Republican spending plan that even his own right flank doesn't want, McCarthy had few answers.
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell implored McCarthy and House Republicans to reconsider their measure.
"Speaker McCarthy: the only way – the only way – out of a shutdown is bipartisanship," Schumer said. "And by constantly adhering to what the hard right wants, you're aiming for a shutdown. They want it, you know it, you can stop it. Work in a bipartisan way, like we are in the Senate."
"These important discussions cannot progress if Congress simply fails to complete our work on standard, short term funding, and the basic functions of government end up being taken hostage," McConnell said on the Senate floor on Thursday. "A vote against a standard short-term funding measure is a vote against paying over $1 billion in salary for Border Patrol and ICE agents working to track down lethal fentanyl and tame our open borders.”
“You know, I agree with Mitch here," Biden wrote on social media in response to McConnell's comments. "Why the House Republicans would want to defund Border Patrol is beyond me."
At a meeting of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Biden said Wednesday he didn’t think a federal shutdown was inevitable.
“I don’t think anything is inevitable when it comes to politics,” Biden said.
But when asked what could be done to avoid it, the president said: “If I knew that I would have done it already.”
Pressure on McCarthy is coming from the inside and outside of Congress, with former President Donald Trump joining the calls of far-right rebels like Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida to shut the government down if the California Republican does not make concessions on immigration policies, money for Ukraine’s war effort, federal spending levels and defunding the prosecutors pursuing criminal cases against the 2024 GOP presidential primary frontrunner.
“The Republicans lost big on Debt Ceiling, got NOTHING, and now are worried that they will be BLAMED for the Budget Shutdown. Wrong!!! Whoever is President will be blamed, in this case, Crooked (as Hell!) Joe Biden!” Trump wrote on Truth Social, his social media network, on Sunday night. “UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING, SHUT IT DOWN! Close the Border, stop the Weaponization of ‘Justice,’ and End Election Interference.”
McCarthy brushed away Gaetz's pressure, saying that "people have got to get over their personal differences."
"He never voted for me to start out with, I don't assume he's changing his position," McCarthy said.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has gone on the offensive on the possibility of a shutdown, continuing to lay out what's at stake for the American people and making it clear who they believe the public should blame if funding runs out.
I’m prepared to do my part, but the Republicans in the House of Representatives refuse, they refuse, to stand up to the extremists in their party. So now everyone in America could be forced to pay the price,” Biden said in a video posted to social media on Tuesday.
On a call with reporters on Tuesday, White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby stressed that with the government shut down, U.S. military servicemembers, including 1.3 million active-duty troops, would still have to show up to work without getting paid.
“Republicans are playing partisan politics here with American lives, with our national security,” he said.
In an interview with Spectrum News, Kirby also noted “hundreds of thousands of federal employees, civil servants, in the Department of Defense alone” could be furloughed, arguing it would impact recruitment.
“Most recruiters are active duty members, of course, but they are backed up by civilian employees in those recruiting offices and in headquarters,” he said. “It could have an effect on our ability to bring in fresh troops from the military.”
At a briefing on Monday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned about the impact of a shutdown on loans for farmers and those buying homes in rural areas as well as the effect a funding lapse would have on the WIC program.
“During the course of a shutdown, millions of those moms, babies, and young children would see a lack of nutrition assistance,” Vilsak said at the press briefing, estimating that WIC would last “a day or two” and even states with funding reserves would likely run out within a week.
Earlier on Monday, the Biden administration circulated state-by-state data for the seven million “vulnerable moms and children” that rely on government assistance for food, WIC “serves nearly half of babies born in this country.” If the government shuts down, the White House estimates the food assistance would dry up within days.
Spectrum News Joseph Konig and Maddie Gannon and The Associated Press contributed to this report.