The government is open this week, after having wasted who knows how many days of work in recent weeks preparing for a shutdown. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy gave up on his previously failed demands for dramatic budget cuts and new draconian border policies, and worked with Democrats to save the country from another pointless shutdown—for now, that is. The reprieve lasts until Nov. 17, and the underlying fights that brought Congress to the brink of disaster Saturday have not been resolved.
That leaves just over six weeks for both the House and Senate to finish their work on 12 appropriations bills, meet in conference, reconcile all of those bills, pass them, and send them to President Joe Biden’s desk. In that time, they also need to take care of the things that expired on Oct. 1, most critically the reauthorization of the farm bill. Since aid to Ukraine was left out of the stopgap funding bill, that will have to be taken care of as well. The magnitude of this challenge makes it likely that the country will face another shutdown threat the week before Thanksgiving.
The House has passed a total of four of its appropriations bills: one back in July, and the other three in a rush last week. Those bills, however, contain some poison pills that the Democratic Senate won’t accept. They also passed at lower funding levels than McCarthy and Biden agreed to in May, when Congress approved the budget agreement to lift the debt ceiling—another game of brinkmanship created by House Republican extremists.
Biden won’t let McCarthy off the hook for that. “[T]he MAGA extremists once again have brought us to the brink — this time, to a government shutdown — in going back on the deal they made months ago, not keeping their word,” Biden said Sunday. “Enough is enough is enough. This is not that complicated. The brinksmanship has to end. ... Honor the deal we made a few months ago.”
McCarthy will have to accept the higher levels of funding Senate Democrats and Republicans have agreed to, the levels McCarthy embraced when he made his deal with Biden. He’s going to have to make his Republican conference swallow that, and pass those bills with Democratic support, even if it means that Rep. Matt Gaetz tries to oust him.
Funding for Ukraine, which was left out of the stopgap bill, will be an even harder fight. Biden laid down a marker on that Sunday as well:
I fully expect the Speaker to keep his commitment for the secure passage and support needed to help Ukraine as they defend themselves against aggression and brutality. And folks, you know, overwhelmingly — there’s [an] overwhelming number of Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate who support Ukraine. Let’s vote on it.
Senate Republicans dealt their leader, Mitch McConnell, a blow Saturday when they overruled him on Ukraine funding. He urged his conference to hold together behind the Senate’s stopgap bill that included Ukraine aid, but the majority of his conference—most of whom have been strong Ukraine backers—opposed him.
Following Saturday’s vote on the stopgap bill, both McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made statements reiterating that they would bring it up. Schumer said that he and McConnell “have agreed to continue fighting for more economic and security aid for Ukraine.” McConnell added, “Most Senate Republicans remain committed to helping our friends on frontlines… I’m confident the Senate will pass further urgent assistance to Ukraine later this year.”
That’s left the bipartisan majority of the Senate that backs Ukraine trying to figure out a strategy—and a vehicle—for passing that aid. And it’s left House Democrats relying on a man none of them trust to do the right thing.
In a statement after the funding bill passed, House Democratic leadership said, "When the House returns, we expect Speaker McCarthy to advance a bill to the House Floor for an up-or-down vote that supports Ukraine, consistent with his commitment to making sure that Vladimir Putin, Russia and authoritarianism are defeated. We must stand with the Ukrainian people until victory is won."