Senate finds breakthrough on funding as government shutdown looms

<span>Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP</span>
Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

The Senate took a significant step on Tuesday to extend government funding beyond the end of the month, with just days left to avoid a shutdown that could force millions of federal employees to go without pay.

In a vote of 77 to 19, the Senate advanced a shell bill that will become a stopgap measure to fund the government through 17 November while directing roughly $6bn toward Ukraine’s war efforts and another $6bn toward disaster relief.

The Senate could give final approval to the bill in the coming days, but the proposal faces steep odds of passage in the Republican-controlled House, where hard-right members have denounced efforts to provide additional funding to Ukraine. The ongoing disagreements have elevated the risk that Congress will fail to pass a short-term funding bill, known as a continuing resolution, before the 1 October deadline to avoid a government shutdown.

The Senate majority leader, Democrat Chuck Schumer, celebrated the crafting of the bill as a bipartisan achievement that would buy lawmakers more time to make longer-term funding decisions, and he urged House Republicans to adopt a similar approach in their negotiations.

“We worked together so hard and diligently over the weekend, and we produced a result, I think, that shows that bipartisanship can triumph over extremism,” Schumer said just before the vote. “It’s a bridge towards cooperation and away from extremism, which will allow us to keep working to fully fund the federal government and spare families the pain of a shutdown.”

The White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, echoed that message, saying in a statement: “The Senate’s bipartisan continuing resolution will keep the government open, make a down payment on disaster relief, and is an important show of support for Ukraine. House Republicans should join the Senate in doing their job.”

But even as the Senate made progress on a continuing resolution, the House kept its attention on a separate set of appropriations bills, which would address longer-term government funding needs but would not specifically help avoid a shutdown later this week.

Related: White House planning for government shutdown after chaos on Capitol Hill

The four bills include further funding cuts demanded by the hard-right House members who have refused to back a stopgap spending bill that would prevent a shutdown. Because of House Republicans’ narrow majority, the speaker, Kevin McCarthy, can only afford to lose a handful of votes within his conference, and hard-right members have capitalized on that dynamic to push for policy concessions in the spending negotiations.

On Tuesday evening, House Republicans successfully advanced those four appropriations bills in a procedural vote of 216 to 212. The vote marked a victory for McCarthy, and the speaker vowed that House Republicans would also soon take action to prevent a shutdown by advancing a continuing resolution with border security measures attached to it. However, several hard-right members of McCarthy’s conference continued to reject the idea of supporting any continuing resolution, further elevating the likelihood of a shutdown.

Even though House Republicans managed to advance the four bills, their spending package stands no chance of becoming law. The proposal will be dead on arrival in the Senate, where the Democrats who hold the majority have roundly rejected additional funding cuts.

As the congressional standoff stretches on, the White House has accused Republicans of playing politics at the expense of the American people. In a video shared to X, formerly known as Twitter, Joe Biden warned on Tuesday that a shutdown could force US service members to go without pay as they remain on duty.

“I’m prepared to do my part, but the Republicans in the House of Representatives refuse. They refuse to stand up to the extremists in their party. So now everyone in America could be forced to pay the price,” Biden said. “Funding the government is one of the most basic responsibilities of the Congress. It’s time for these Republicans in the House to start doing their job – doing the job America elected them to do. So let’s get it done.”

But Republicans simultaneously face pressure from the leader of their party, Donald Trump, to hold the line in the budget talks – even if that means risking a shutdown.

Trump wrote in a post shared on his social media platform, Truth Social, on Sunday: “UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING, SHUT IT DOWN!”

McCarthy could attempt to pass a continuing resolution with Democratic support, but such a choice would face immediate backlash from hard-right Republicans, who have threatened to oust the speaker if he opts for that bipartisan strategy.

One source familiar with the thinking of more moderate House Republicans argued that only a bipartisan proposal can ultimately pass both chambers of Congress, criticizing hard-right members for seeking “to burn the place down”.

“These are not serious people,” the source said. “They believe anything that Biden wants is bad, but the margins are so thin that their votes count.”

Martin Pengelly contributed reporting