On the Brink of a Government Shutdown, McCarthy Pivots to a 45-Day Plan Relying on Democratic Help

by Braxton Taylor

WASHINGTON (AP) — On the brink of a federal government shutdown, Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced a dramatic pivot Saturday, trying to push a 45-day funding bill through the House with Democratic help — a move that could keep government open but most certainly risks his job.

Republican lawmakers met behind closed doors early at the Capitol with hours to go before the midnight deadline needed to fund government operations or face a disruptive federal closure.

The new approach would leave behind aid to Ukraine, a White House priority opposed by a growing number of GOP lawmakers, but the plan would increase federal disaster assistance by $16 billion, meeting President Joe Biden’s full request.

The GOP-run House readied for a quick vote, but Democrats hit the brakes, seeking time so they could read the 71-page bill.

Across the Capitol, the Senate opened a rare weekend session hoping to advance a bipartisan stopgap plan that includes money for Ukraine. But in a sudden shift, Republicans led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has championed the package with its aid for Ukraine, were stalling action as they waited for the House to act.

“We’re going to do our job,” McCarthy said after the morning meeting. “We’re going to be adults in the room. And we’re going to keep government open.”

With no deal in place before Sunday, federal workers will face furloughs, more than 2 million active-duty and reserve military troops will work without pay and programs and services that Americans rely on from coast to coast will begin to face shutdown disruptions.

The House measure would fund government at current 2023 levels for 45 days, through Nov. 17, moving closer to the Senate’s emerging approach. But the Senate package adds $6 billion for Ukraine to fight the war against Russia and $6 billion for U.S. disaster relief.

Both chambers came to a standstill as lawmakers assessed their options.

“The American people deserve better,” said House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, warning in a lengthy floor speech that “extreme” Republicans were risking shutdown.

McConnell, of Kentucky, said Republican senators were waiting “to see what the House is doing.”

For the House package to be approved, McCarthy, R-Calif., will be forced to rely on Democrats because the speaker’s hard-right flank has said it will oppose any short-term measure. Republicans hold a 221-212 majority, with two vacancies.

Relying on Democratic votes and leaving his right-flank behind is something that the hard-right lawmakers have warned will risk McCarthy’s job as speaker. They are almost certain to quickly file a motion to try to remove McCarthy from that office, though it is not at all certain there would be enough votes to topple the 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.”

The quick pivot comes after the collapse Friday of McCarthy’s earlier plan to pass a Republican-only bill with steep spending cuts up to 30% to most government agencies that the White House and Democrats rejected as too extreme.

“Our options are slipping away every minute,” said one senior Republican, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida.

The federal government is heading straight into a shutdown that poses grave uncertainty for federal workers in states all across America and the people who depend on them — from troops to border control agents to office workers, scientists and others.

Families that rely on Head Start for children, food benefits and countless other programs large and small are confronting potential interruptions or outright closures. At the airports, Transportation Security Administration officers and air traffic controllers are expected to work without pay, but travelers could face delays in updating their U.S. passports or other travel documents.

An earlier McCarthy plan to keep the government open collapsed Friday due to opposition from a faction of 21 hard-right holdouts despite steep spending cuts of nearly 30% to many agencies and severe border security provisions.

The White House has brushed aside McCarthy’s overtures to meet with Biden after the speaker walked away from the debt deal they brokered earlier this year that set budget levels.

Catering to his hard-right flank, McCarthy had returned to the spending limits the conservatives demanded back in January as part of the deal-making to help him become the House speaker.

After Friday’s vote, McCarthy’s chief Republican critic, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, said the speaker’s bill “went down in flames as I’ve told you all week it would.”

Some of the Republican holdouts, including Gaetz, are allies of former President Donald Trump, who is Biden’s chief rival in the 2024 race. Trump has been encouraging the Republicans to fight hard for their priorities and even to “shut it down.”

 

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