US funding plan to avoid government shutdown clears latest hurdle

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy leaves a meeting with House Republicans (J Scott Applewhite/AP/PA)
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy leaves a meeting with House Republicans (J Scott Applewhite/AP/PA) Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy leaves a meeting with House Republicans (J Scott Applewhite/AP/PA)

On the brink of a federal government shutdown, US politicians on Saturday swiftly approved 45-day funding Bill to keep federal agencies open as Speaker Kevin McCarthy dropped demands for steep spending cuts and relied on Democratic votes for passage to send the package to the Senate.

The new approach would leave behind aid to Ukraine, a White House priority opposed by a growing number of Republican representatives, but the plan would increase federal disaster assistance by 16 billion dollars (£13 billion), meeting President Joe Biden’s full request.

With hours to go for the midnight deadline to fund the government, the Senate was also in for a rare weekend session and prepared to act next.

“We’re going to do our job,” Mr McCarthy said ahead of voting. “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 two 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 to November 17, moving closer to the Senate’s approach. But the Senate package would have added six billion dollars (£4.9 billion) for Ukraine to fight the war against Russia and six billion dollars for US disaster relief.

Both chambers came to a standstill as politicians assessed their options, some decrying the loss of Ukraine aid.

“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.

House passage came on a 335-91 vote, with most Republicans and almost all Democrats supporting the Bill.

The lone Democrat to vote against the package, Rep Mike Quigley of Illinois, the co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus, called it a victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin and “Putin-sympathisers everywhere.”

He said: “Protecting Ukraine is in our national interest.”

Democratic Jamaal Bowman acknowledged triggering a fire alarm on Saturday in one of the US Capitol office buildings as members scrambled to pass the Bill.

The fire alarm sounded out around noon in the Cannon House Office Building and prompted a building-wide evacuation at a time when the House was in session and staffers were working in the building.

The Republican-controlled House Administration Committee, which oversees issues pertaining to the Capitol complex, posted a picture of a person pulling the fire alarm who appeared to be Mr Bowman. The committee posted the picture on X, formerly known as Twitter, and said the incident was under investigation.

A spokesperson for the New York representative said in a statement to The Associated Press that he did not intend to trigger a building-wide alarm as he was rushing to make it to the House floor.