The U.S. Senate, in a rare weekend meeting, approved a funding bill Saturday night, sending it to President Joe Biden for his signature and averting a widely dreaded shutdown of the federal government.
The bill, which passed the Senate 88-9 after winning approval in the House of Representatives, would fund the federal government through Nov. 17. The bill contains $16 billion in disaster aid sought by Biden but did not include money to help Ukraine in its war against Russia’s invasion.
After the vote, Biden released a statement saying the bill’s passage prevented "an unnecessary crisis that would have inflicted needless pain on millions of hardworking Americans."
"We will have avoided a shutdown," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement after the vote. "Bipartisanship, which has been the trademark of the Senate, has prevailed. And the American people can breathe a sigh of relief."
Had the bill not been approved by Congress and signed by the president by midnight Saturday, the federal government would have shut down.
More than 4 million U.S. military service personnel and government workers would not be paid, although essential services, such as air traffic control and official border entry points would still be staffed. Pensioners might not get their monthly government payments in time to pay bills and buy groceries, and national parks could be closed.
For days all of that seemed inevitable.
The abrupt turn of events began Saturday when Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy changed tactics and put forward the funding bill that hard-line members of his Republican caucus opposed.
The House passed the bill, 335-91. More Democrats supported it than Republicans, even though it does not contain aid for Ukraine, a priority for Biden, Democrats and many Senate Republicans.
"Extreme MAGA Republicans have lost, the American people have won," top House Democrat Hakeem Jeffries told reporters ahead of the vote.
Republican Representative Lauren Boebert criticized the passage of the short-term stopgap bill.
"We should have forced the Senate to take up the four appropriations bills that the House has passed. That should have been our play," she told CNN. "We should have forced them to come to the negotiating table, to come to conference, to hash out our differences."
McCarthy is likely to face a motion from the right-wing members of his party to remove him as speaker.
"If somebody wants to remove me because I want to be the adult in the room, go ahead and try," McCarthy said of the threat to oust him. "But I think this country is too important."
Ukraine aid still likely
In his statement, Biden noted the lack of funding for Ukraine in the bill and said, "We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted."
Support for Ukraine remains strong in Congress and late Saturday night, a bipartisan group of Senate leadership members, led by Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, released a statement vowing to ensure the United States continues “to provide critical and sustained security and economic support for Ukraine.”
NBC News quoted an unnamed U.S. official as saying Biden and the Defense Department have funds to meet Ukraine’s battlefield needs "for a bit longer," but it is "imperative" that Congress pass a Ukraine funding bill soon.
In the House, the lone Democrat to vote against the funding bill was Representative Mike Quigley of Illinois, the co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus. "Protecting Ukraine is in our national interest," he said.
"This does look very chaotic, but this is not the first time it's happened," Todd Belt, director of the school of political management at The George Washington University, told VOA. "There is a price that has to be paid here. But that is the price of democracy. It does seem very messy sometimes. But eventually, usually you get some compromise."
Such shutdowns have occurred four times in the last decade in the U.S., but often have lasted just a day or two until lawmakers reach a compromise to fully restart government operations. However, one shutdown that occurred during the administration of former President Donald Trump lasted 35 days, as he unsuccessfully sought funding to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.