US Congress avoids shutdown in last-minute funding deal but Ukraine left without aid

The US government has narrowly avoided a shutdown after both the Senate and the House of Representatives passed a last-minute funding deal which has dropped aid to Ukraine.

President Joe Biden signed a temporary funding bill, minutes before the 12.01am (5.01am BST) deadline on Sunday, to keep government agencies open minutes after it was agreed by Congress.

It comes after days of turmoil in the House, right-wing Republicans had been calling for government agencies to cut their budgets by up to 30 per cent.

The new stopgap package increases federal disaster assistance by $16 billion dollars but does not include new aid to Ukraine, where the conflict with Russia continues.

If no deal had been in place by Sunday, federal workers would have faced furloughs, more than two million active-duty and reserve military troops would have had to work without pay and services which Americans rely on would have faced shutdown disruptions.

The US Congress passed the funding bill late on Saturday night to keep federal agencies running for another 45 days and avert a costly government shutdown. (Photo: Mandel Ngan /AFP/Getty)

Mr Biden said the deal “is good news for the American people” but he warned “we should never have been in this position in the first place”.

Referring to it as a “manufactured crisis”, he accused “extreme House Republicans” of trying to walk away from a deal by demanding “drastic cuts”.

Mr Biden also warned: “We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted.”

He said he expected the Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy “will keep his commitment to the people of Ukraine and secure passage of the support needed to help Ukraine at this critical moment”.

The eleventh-hour deal was approved by the House 335-91 while the Democratic-majority Senate voted 88-9 to pass it guaranteeing funding until 17 November – giving another 45 days for negotiations on a longer-term funding package.

It followed a sudden turn of events in Congress after the House pushed the government to the brink of a disruptive shutdown.

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., joined by Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., holds a news conference just after the House approved a 45-day funding bill to keep federal agencies open, but the measure must first go to the Senate, at the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy said “we’re going to keep government open”. (Photo:/J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Mr McCarthy abandoned demands for steep spending cuts from his right-wing Republican colleagues and relied on Democrats to pass the bill.

“We’re going to do our job,” Mr McCarthy said before the House vote. “We’re going to be adults in the room. And we’re going to keep government open.”

Mr McCarthy’s shift won the support of top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell, who had backed a similar measure in the Senate.

The Democratic Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said it had been “a day full of twists and turns, but the American people can breathe a sigh of relief: There will be no government shutdown.”

He added: “Democrats have said from the start that the only solution for avoiding a shutdown is bipartisanship, and we are glad Speaker McCarthy has finally heeded our message.”

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 30: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) walks to the Senate chamber following passage of a short-term funding bill on September 30, 2023 in Washington, DC. The Senate passed a short-term funding bill to avert a government shutdown with less than three hours to the deadline. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer after the short-term funding bill to avert a government shutdown was passed.(Photo: Nathan Howard/Getty)

A shutdown would have meant most of the government’s four million employees would not be paid and would have shut down a range of federal services, from National Parks to financial regulators.

Federal agencies had already drawn up detailed plans spelling out which services would continue, such as airport screening and border patrols, and which would not, including scientific research and nutrition aid.

Avoiding the shutdown has come at a cost with the loss of Ukraine aid a blow for politicians of both parties, who had vowed to support President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after his recent Washington visit.

Democratic Senator Michael Bennett held the bill up for several hours trying to negotiate a deal for further Ukraine aid.

The deal provides only a short-term reprieve, as the fundamental disagreements over government spending levels and policies between Republicans and Democrats will still remain when it comes to an end in mid-November.