No shutdown for now: Where Congress goes from here

After becoming embroiled in a weeks-long spending battle that seemed headed inexorably toward a government shutdown, Congress decided at the eleventh hour to approve a 45-day reprieve — showing that a bipartisan majority can still retain power have to push back against vocal obstructionists.

Embattled Republican Chairman Kevin McCarthy stunned his opponents on Saturday by approving the short-term funding measure with the votes of a majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives, along with almost all Democrats. The measure includes $16 billion in disaster assistance, but no border security provisions or aid to Ukraine. That caused Democratic Senator Michael Bennet – the son of a Polish Jew born just before World War II – to hold the bill in the Senate until almost 9 p.m. It passed 88-9, with three hours to go before the midnight deadline.

The move gives Congress more time to try to pass a new budget. But as much as the deal brought a collective sigh of relief on Capitol Hill, it does little to resolve the underlying problems that caused the standoff in the House of Representatives between Republican Party leadership and renegade conservatives over spending cuts and budget priorities. It also exposed a wider disagreement over aid to Ukraine, once a bipartisan issue.

Why we wrote this

Despite its reputation for dysfunction, Congress showed that a bipartisan majority could still come together to push past obstructionists — potentially opening the door to greater cooperation.

Still, the ability of Democrats and Republicans to come together to prevent a shutdown is at least somewhat counter to the prevailing view that Congress is hopelessly deadlocked. It also suggests that Speaker McCarthy may be a better strategist than was given credit for. That could mean an opportunity for more bipartisan cooperation in the future, though he is now deeply indebted to Democrats and could still face significant pushback from the party’s right flank.

“As a radical pragmatist, I was thrilled to see that a bipartisan solution could avoid a shutdown that would have been painful for millions of Americans,” said Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, member of the House Problem Solvers Caucus. “I hope the same spirit leads us to a resolution before the 45-day extension expires.”

Give the budget process more time

Congress is supposed to develop a budget through twelve parallel appropriations bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate, but in the end it often falls short and the entire budget is crammed into one large “omnibus.” Most lawmakers have little time to read it and virtually no opportunity to comment on it.