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House GOP hardliners block spending stopgap with shutdown looming

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy continues to battle a group of conservatives who oppose any short-term spending bill ahead of a likely government shutdown.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds
/
AFP via Getty Images
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy continues to battle a group of conservatives who oppose any short-term spending bill ahead of a likely government shutdown.

Updated September 29, 2023 at 8:51 PM ET

House conservatives blocked a Republican bill to avoid a government shutdown, dealing House Speaker Kevin McCarthy another defeat with the clock ticking toward the midnight deadline on Saturday when federal agencies run out of money.

The failure is the latest display of the dysfunction that has engulfed Congress in the days and weeks leading up to an increasingly inevitable government shutdown. House Republicans have been mired in internal battles over spending and political tactics that have put them at odds with Democrats and most Republicans in the Senate who are pursuing a bipartisan solution.

The lack of unity has frustrated rank-and-file House Republicans like Steve Womack, R-Ark.. "This is what we are supposed to do as a governing majority: we are supposed to lead," he said.

There's a plan to try again on Saturday — but no details

House Republicans went back to the drawing board Friday evening. They emerged from a closed-door party meeting with a potential plan to try to vote on a different, shorter stopgap measure sometime on Saturday. But there was seemingly no consensus on the details of what would be in that bill and when it might be considered.

The talks come as the Senate prepares to vote Saturday on their own bipartisan bill that would fund government agencies through November 17. It includes $5 billion for disaster aid and $6 billion for assistance for Ukraine.

McCarthy has ignored that bill and opposed pairing additional money for Ukraine on a stopgap bill, and argued Congress needed to address the situation at the southwest border.

However, his own GOP-crafted measure that would have funded agencies through October 31 and included border security provisions failed at the hands of a bloc of members who said they wouldn't approve any short-term bill. The vote was 198-232, with 21 GOP members voting against it.

At a press conference before the vote McCarthy downplayed internal divisions and essentially dared fellow Republicans to follow through on their threat to block it. "Every member will have to go on record of where they stand. Are they willing to secure the border or do they side with President Biden on an open border and vote against a measure to keep government open?"

Republican holdouts were unmoved. Their argument all along has been that Congress should have their work writing spending bills, not pass stopgaps. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., repeated his stance ahead of the vote.

Democrats say the dysfunction is wasting time

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., noted the White House already issued a veto threat on the GOP bill, stating during the floor debate, "this is a complete waste of time."

Democrats denounced the steep spending cuts in the GOP bill. Instead of keeping current spending levels for all agencies, the measure walled off a few departments, but slashed others by 30%.

"This bill would slash investments in cancer research, leave communities recovering from natural disasters out to dry, undercut allies with a $1 billion cut to Israel and further cuts to our support of Ukraine, defund law enforcement and makes our communities less safe, and take food out of the mouths of millions. This bill raises costs on American families at a time when the cost of living is already too high," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

A group of Senate Republicans and independent Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema are also working on an amendment to the Senate bill that would address border security, in an attempt to make it more palatable to the GOP House. It's unclear whether their efforts will yield a proposal that will get support from Senate Democrats. But some conservative House Republicans remain staunchly opposed to including any additional aid for Ukraine.

A group of House Republicans and Democrats have been meeting to push a bipartisan plan in the event of a shutdown, many of them representing swing districts across the country, and warning about the negative impact of any shutdown.

Kelsey Snell contributed to this story.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deirdre Walsh
Deirdre Walsh is a congressional correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk.