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Congress passes last-minute bill to prevent a government shutdown

Rep. John Curtis said some GOP reps ‘overplayed their hand’

SHARE Congress passes last-minute bill to prevent a government shutdown

Michelle Budge, Deseret News

With just hours to go before a shutdown, Congress passed a 45-day stopgap funding measure Saturday, after the House and Senate cleared a bill that will keep the government running until mid-November.

President Joe Biden said he would sign the bill in a statement Saturday, but said he hoped Congress would pass additional funding for Ukraine soon.

The bill will continue spending at 2023 levels and includes additional funds for disaster relief. It passed the House in a 335-91 vote, and the Senate in an 88-9 vote.

The measure is meant to give lawmakers enough time to pass the 12 appropriations bills necessary to fund the federal government for fiscal year 2024, which starts Sunday, Oct. 1.

So far, the House has passed four appropriations bills, while the Senate has not passed any. Both chambers are almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, with Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans controlling the House. This has made legislating difficult for leaders of both chambers.

Utah’s three congressmen and Sen. Mitt Romney voted in favor of the bill, while Sen. Mike Lee opposed the measure.

Lee sent a statement to the Deseret News Saturday night explaining his vote against the bill.

“I am glad that Congress reached an agreement to fund the federal government without throwing additional billions of taxpayer dollars overseas, and I am proud we defeated far worse proposals on the table,” he said. “But as I have said for years, 11th hour ‘Continuing Resolutions’ with no spending reforms, no border security, and no check on disastrous unconstitutional policies are how we find ourselves in this annual crisis in the first place, and I will not vote to perpetuate an intentionally broken system. I look forward to engaging in the real appropriations process we have been promised by Speaker (Kevin) McCarthy.”

Ukraine funding excluded

The House bill does not include billions of dollars in additional aid for Ukraine. The Senate was working on a resolution that included additional funding for Ukraine, but McCarthy said late Friday the Senate bill would not receive enough support to pass the House.

The lack of Ukraine aid in the House bill almost stopped it from clearing the Senate. Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado was reportedly angry about the exclusion of aid for Ukraine, and he held up the vote on the bill for hours, late into the night on Saturday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was reportedly in favor of passing a resolution that included aid for Ukraine, but after speaking with Republican senators he agreed to move forward with the House bill.

Several senators, including Lee, said the additional Ukraine aid made it impossible for them to support the measure.

Both McConnell and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke in favor of the continuing resolution before the Senate vote Saturday night. Schumer also said he and McConnell “have agreed to continue fighting for more economic and security aid for Ukraine,” while McConnell said he was “confident the Senate will pass further urgent assistance for Ukraine later this year.”

House debates measure

After a week where Republican infighting in the House was on display, McCarthy tried to shift blame for the last-minute vote from the House to the Senate at a press conference Saturday. He pointed out the Senate has yet to pass any appropriations bills.

McCarthy also criticized Biden, who he said hasn’t been trying to avert a shutdown, but rather has been traveling around the country.

“The House is going to act so government will not shut down. We will put a clean funding stopgap on the floor to keep government open for 45 days for the House and Senate to get their work done,” he said.

In the House Saturday, Democratic House Leader Hakeem Jeffries gave a long speech on the floor to stall for time. He said Republicans hadn’t given his caucus enough time to look over the 71-page funding measure. He repeatedly blamed “extreme MAGA Republicans” for taking the country to the brink of a shutdown.

But in the end, the bill passed the House in a 335-91 vote. Among Republicans the vote was 126-90, while Democrats voted in favor of the bill 209-1. Seven members didn’t vote.

McCarthy had offered several continuing resolutions over the past few weeks, including some that cut spending and increased funds for border security, but there were not enough votes in his conference to pass those bills because of infighting in the Republican conference.

Utah congressmen support bill

All three Utah Republican congressmen — Reps. Blake Moore of the 1st District, John Curtis of the 3rd District and Burgess Owens of the 4th District — voted in favor of the bill.

In a video comment shared with the Deseret News, Curtis said there was “good news and bad news” after passage of the bill.

The good news, he said, was the bill passed the House, “which gives us a little breathing room to finish our appropriation bills.”

But, the bad news, he said, is some Republicans “overplayed their hand.”

“Several days ago, we had a chance to vote on a very similar continuing resolution that would have included border provisions. Almost every one of our wishlist items for the border would have been in this continuing resolution, which would have forced the Senate to deal with the issue,” he said. “And I think we would have made — we may not have received everything we wanted — but I think we would have had a lot of what we wanted in that.”

Curtis said he approached one of the Republican holdouts Saturday morning and suggested they pass a bill to dock the pay of members of Congress by 5% for every month they weren’t able to complete the appropriations process. He said the person looked him in the eye and said, “I’m not going to dock my own pay.”

“What’s even more bothersome to me is those are the exact individuals that will go back to their districts and fundraise on the fact that they didn’t vote for this continuing resolution, saying how great they are. Anyway, welcome to my life in Washington,” he said.

In a statement given to the Deseret News, Owens explained why he voted for the resolution even though he thought it was “far from perfect.”

“Today I voted for a short-term, stop-gap funding measure to keep the government open,” he said. “This agreement is far from perfect but is a necessary step to pass our remaining appropriations bills through regular order without shutting down essential services that Americans depend on. While much work remains, House Republicans will continue fighting to secure the border and bring fiscal sanity back to Washington.”

Moore, whose district is home to nearly all of the state’s federal workers, said in a statement to the Deseret News he was “proud” to vote for the resolution “that will ensure the servicemen and women at Hill Air Force Base and the over 40,000 federal workers, uniformed personnel, and military dependents in my district continue to receive a paycheck for their work and service.”

He said the way to lower spending is to “pass appropriations bills that actually lower federal spending.”

“So far, House Republicans have passed 74% of our discretionary federal funding, prioritizing defense, veterans, and homeland security. We are the only chamber that has passed anything at all. I am committed to finishing the job and responsibly lowering our federal spending while ensuring the government stays open and works for the American people,” Moore said.

Will McCarthy face a challenge as Speaker?

Some Republicans in the House, including Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, had suggested they would try to replace McCarthy as speaker if he supported a clean bill.

But McCarthy said Saturday, “If somebody wants to remove me because I want to be the adult in the room, go ahead and try. But I think this country is too important.”

Bowman pulls fire alarm

In a strange turn of events, a photo surfaced of Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., allegedly pulling a fire alarm in the Cannon Building, one of the U.S. Capitol complex office buildings, reportedly to delay a vote to adjourn in the House. But ultimately, the vote proceeded.

A statement from Bowman’s office after the incident said, “Congressman Bowman did not realize he would trigger a building alarm as he was rushing to make an urgent vote. The Congressman regrets any confusion,” according to Politico.