Congress races to avoid a shutdown


Lawmakers are working to approve a stopgap spending bill before a midnight deadline to fund the government.

DAVID GURA, BYLINE: Congress may manage to avert what seemed inevitable just a few hours ago, a government shutdown that would have started just after midnight. At least, lawmakers have made some progress. The House of Representatives approved a temporary spending bill after a chaotic Capitol Hill day, which saw the House and Senate arguing over when to vote. If the government shut down is avoided, there will be a lot of relief. This includes, I would imagine, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. I spoke with her yesterday as a potential shutdown loomed, and I asked her what it would mean for the U.S. economy.

Those economic and political consequences weighed heavily on lawmakers, again, because the deadline is just hours away. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy surprised everyone by making a dramatic reversal as the clock approached midnight. After weeks of insisting any spending bill had to appeal to hard-line conservatives, he announced a new plan and asked House Democrats for their help.


KEVIN MCCARTHY: What I am asking Republicans and Democrats alike – put your partisanship away. Focus on the American people.

GURA : Let’s look deeper at what happened today, and what this could mean for the future. Deirdre and Ximena Walsh, NPR’s congressional correspondent and political reporter respectively, join me. In a moment, we’ll get to the meaning of this. But, Ximena: It was a crazy day on Capitol Hill. There were many back and forths about who should go first. Someone pulled the fire alarm, I believe. What was the atmosphere like today at the Capitol? This morning, we had a Republican conference meeting as the Republicans gathered together to meet with House speaker Kevin McCarthy. As they left, it was clear that the meeting had not been a success. We heard different combinations, with different lengths of the time for a possible extension of funding. Different details. McCarthy’s announcement of the 45-day funding extension, which the House eventually passed, was the first time we knew what the plan would be. Then there was the issue of whether Democrats would go along with this.

GURA : That was the feeling. Deirdre: I said this just a moment ago, but House Speaker Kevin McCarthy suddenly changed his mind after trying for weeks to convince these hard-liners. Was it just deadline pressure? Was it just deadline pressure, pure and simple?

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: It was that but the fact that he couldn’t pass anything. He gave in time and again to the demands of the conservative members at the extreme right of his conference. But they continued to block his efforts. They embarrassed him by removing his own bill yesterday. 21 of them left. The moderates in his own swing districts felt the political pressure you described, and warned about the dangers of a shutdown for the party. It was more advantageous for these vulnerable members to get ahead of the shutdown. He only has a 4-seat majority and wants to maintain it at the next election. He was also able to shift the political narrative by pushing for a continuing budget resolution with current funding levels, but excluding Ukraine. Democrats could agree and also get the disaster money that a lot of them want, or the fight over shutting down the government would end up being about Ukraine.

GURA: Deirdre, you mentioned that margin, which is so slim I can count it on one hand. What did the House Speaker say to reporters about his chances after this vote?

WALSH : He knows there’s a threat against him. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican congressman, has promised to bring a motion to the floor. It only takes one member to make this happen. He said that if you wanted to get rid of me for being an adult, then go ahead. House Republicans are expecting a vote to remove McCarthy. Many believe that it will take place by the end the year. Many of these hardliners said that if you worked with Democrats, then we didn’t want to have you as the speaker any longer. McCarthy has one thing going for him: he got a majority of his own members to back this bill, so that helps him respond to those who say he’s not listening. The one thing that McCarthy has going for him is he did get a majority of his own members to back this bill, so that helps him respond to those who say he’s not listening.

GURA: Ximena, what did it take for House Democrats to get on board with this last-ditch effort?

BUSTILLO: So 90 Republicans did vote against the bill, which is notable mostly just because in his last effort to pass something to keep the government funding, he lost Republicans on that plan, and so this was more. This is a significant increase from his last attempt to pass a bill that would keep the government funded. He lost Republicans on this plan. The number of Republicans who voted for the plan increased to 90. Deirdre mentioned that most Republicans voted for the plan. Deirdre: If this passes, we have 45 days before we are back at the same spot just before Thanksgiving. What do you think will happen to the political landscape between now and then, if this bill passes?

WALSH : I can see us in the same position in 45 days. I mean, Republicans will continue to pass their individual spending bills. These bills have been the subject of many fights. McCarthy will still be speaker, I believe. He can he keep his members together to argue that we avoided a shut down. We can keep negotiating about our larger goals of cutting spending. If we keep passing these bills, we can negotiate with the Senate – sort of unclear whether he can keep his members on the same page on that.

GURA: Ximena, very quickly here, do we know anything about the timetable going forward when the Senate might vote on this?

BUSTILLO: Not necessarily. Many things still need to be decided. This is about all the clarity we have right now. And that is about as much clarity as we have right now.

GURA: NPR political reporter Ximena Bustillo, where that uncertain vibe continues up on Capitol Hill.


GURA: And NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh, thank you both very much for your time.

BUSTILLO: Thank you.

WALSH: Thank you.

Copyright (c) 2023 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text is not in its final version and could be revised or updated in the future. Accuracy and accessibility may vary. Audio recordings are the definitive record of NPR programming.