Washington — House Republicans voted to advance four conservative spending bills on Tuesday in a long-sought display of unity that nonetheless doesn't move Congress any closer to preventing.
The relatively routine vote to bring the bills to the House floor for debate gave Speaker Kevin McCarthy a win after days of Republican infighting between moderates and a contingent of hardline House conservatives over how to fund the government.
But the move will likely do little to change the dynamics underlying the fight over government spending, with just days to go before government funding expires.
Even if the House were to pass all four bills to fund the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, State and Agriculture for another year, they contain spending cuts that make them dead on arrival in the Senate, where Democrats are working on their own solution to avoid a shutdown.
A contingent of hard-right Republicans in the House are opposed to a short-term funding extension and want deeper spending cuts. TheyMcCarthy's efforts to advance the defense spending bill last week, and have vowed to oppose what's known as a "continuing resolution," which would extend government funding at current levels as broader talks unfold.
Lawmakers face a hard deadline of Saturday night to approve funding and keep the government open. Without an extension, hundreds of thousands of federal employees would go without pay until new funding is approved for their agencies, andcould be affected.
Essential workers — like active-duty military members, many federal law enforcement officers and air traffic controllers — would stay on the job, but wouldn't be paid until after the shutdown. Employees in nonessential positions would be furloughed without a paycheck until the government is funded again. Government contractors aren't guaranteed backpay.
Senate Democrats make their move
Making matters more complicated for McCarthy, the Senate on Tuesday took the first steps toward passing their own version of a funding extension by advancing a House-passed bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will use that legislation as a vehicle for a short-term funding extension.
If the Senate passes its own bipartisan measure to keep the government open, it puts pressure on McCarthy to lean on Democrats in his own chamber to avert a shutdown. But doing so would put his speakership in jeopardy — conservatives have threatened to oust him if he goes that route. McCarthy's slim majority of just four seats leaves him little room to maneuver.
House Republicans have been unable to rally around a short-term option. The conservative faction opposes any short-term funding extension and wants Congress to negotiate all 12 annual spending bills individually.
"All last week, Speaker McCarthy, instead of focusing on bipartisanship, catered to the hard right and has nothing — nothing — to show for it," Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "And now the speaker will put on the floor hard-right appropriations bills that have nothing to do with avoiding a shutdown."
The New York Democrat said a bipartisan group of senators "worked in good faith" over the weekend to reach an agreement on a temporary spending bill that would allow government operations to continue after September.
The Senate bill would continue to fund the government at current levels through Nov. 17 and includes about $6 billion in aid for Ukraine as well as nearly $6 billion in disaster relief.
The White House endorsed the Senate bill and called on House Republicans to "stop playing political games with peoples' lives."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, also endorsed passing a temporary funding bill, calling it "the clearest path forward" and rebuking House conservatives' tactics.
"Delaying action on short-term government funding doesn't advance the ball on any meaningful policy priorities," McConnell said in a floor speech. "Shutting the government down over a domestic budget dispute doesn't strengthen anyone's political position. It just puts important progress on ice and it leaves millions of Americans on edge."
On Tuesday, McCarthy was noncommittal on bringing up a Senate-passed bill for a vote, but said he would put a short-term spending bill that includes funds for border security on the floor by Saturday, when current government funding expires.
"I think that's the appropriate way to be able to keep government funding, secure our border, while we continue to keep the government open to work on the rest of the appropriations process," McCarthy told reporters.
McCarthy said the measure would last 30 to 45 days and he didn't want it to include aid for Ukraine — another sticking point for the far right. It would also be a lower spending level than current funding, he said.
"If they want to put focus on Ukraine and not focus on the southern border, I think their priorities are backwards," McCarthy said of the Senate bill.
Republican Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana accused far-right members of giving the upper hand to Democrats in negotiations by blocking efforts to advance GOP spending bills in the House.
"We would have been in a much better leverage position to get conservative wins," Graves said last Saturday. "Every day you wait you end up handing the reins over to Chuck Schumer."
— Ellis Kim contributed to this report.
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