Discover more from Letters from an American
September 30, 2023
This afternoon, the House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution to fund the government for 45 days—until just before Thanksgiving—by a vote of 335 to 91.
The maneuver was a huge blow to the MAGA caucus that was demanding dramatic cuts to the government, the embrace of their border policies, and elimination of Ukraine aid in exchange for keeping the government open. The measure the House passed had almost none of that. It was a clean continuing resolution to fund the government at 2023 levels for another 45 days…with two important exceptions: it added disaster funding, and it stripped out additional funding for Ukraine’s war against Russia.
House speaker Kevin McCarthy’s move was enough of a surprise that Democrats had to scramble even to read it, but it essentially means that McCarthy had to turn away from the MAGA Republicans to whom he has been catering and turn to the Democrats for the votes needed to fund the government.
All but one of the Democrats voted in favor; the lone “no” vote came from Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL), the co-chair of the Ukraine Caucus, whose district has a high percentage of Ukrainian Americans. The unity of the Democrats is notable and a sign of their strength going forward.
In contrast, the Republicans remain divided, but after months of catering to the extremists, today the rest of the conference asserted itself. One hundred and twenty-six Republicans voted in favor of the measure; 90 voted no. That 90 included all the usual suspects on the far right. The vote to pass the measure was a clear rebuke to the MAGA Republicans who had forced their colleagues in swing districts to vote for dramatic and unpopular cuts in services and then refused to fund the government anyway.
House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said, “The American people have won. The extreme MAGA Republicans have lost. It was a victory for the American people and a complete and total surrender by right-wing extremists who throughout the year have tried to hijack the congress.”
McCarthy, explaining his sudden about-face to work with the Democrats, also blamed the extremists. It was very clear he had done all he could to work with them, he said, but “if you have members in your conference that won’t let you vote for appropriation bills, doesn’t [sic] want an omnibus, and won’t vote for a stopgap measure so the only answer is to shut down and not pay our troops, I don't want to be a part of that team. I want to be part of a conservative group that wants to get things done.”
More colloquially, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) wrote: “Here’s what went down: we just won a clean 45 day gov extension, stripped GOP’s earlier 30% cuts to Social Security admin etc, staved off last minute anti-immigrant hijinks, and averted shutdown (for now). People will get paychecks and MTG threw a tantrum on the way out. Win-win[.]”
Still at stake is funding for Ukraine, but members promise to make sure that happens. “We will get the Ukraine funding next,” Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA) wrote. “This is a 45-day bill to make sure government is open and troops/cops/air-traffic controllers etc get paid. With the same leverage we used to bear back MAGA, we will keep Ukraine in the fight.”
The issue of funding for Ukraine is not a small one. Former Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) noted that it was on September 30, 1938, that British prime minister Neville Chamberlain announced he would not stand in the way of Adolf Hitler’s annexation of the Sudentenland, a key move in Hitler’s rise. “Members of the House and Senate who are voting to deny Ukraine assistance on the 85th anniversary of Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 “peace in our time” speech should read some history,” she wrote. “Appeasement didn’t work then. It won’t work now.”
The votes should be there for Ukraine aid. Just two days ago, members of the House voted 311 to 117 for Ukraine funding, and the Senate, too, strongly favors Ukraine aid. But there is no doubt the removal of this funding signals that Trump and the MAGA Republicans favor a foreign policy that helps Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The biggest loser in today’s vote was former president Trump, who had urged his loyalists to shut down the government until they got all their demands. He is an agent of chaos and recognized that hurting the nation—including our credit around the world—would make voters more likely to turn against the sitting president.
Getting himself or someone like him back into the White House is becoming his only hope for turning back his legal troubles, especially now that a judge has decided that he, his older sons, a number of associates, and the Trump Organization engaged in fraud that requires the dissolution of many of his businesses. That is a psychic blow as well as a financial one, and he cannot afford either.
The biggest winner is the American people, not only because Congress has agreed to do as the vast majority of us wish and fund the government. It’s far too early to say Republican leadership might really be breaking away from the MAGA crowd, but for today, at least, we can see what’s possible. It is clear at the very least that McCarthy cannot hold the speakership without Democratic votes.
Tonight the Senate also passed the continuing resolution, by an overwhelming vote of 88 to 9. The nine were all Republicans.
President Biden is expected to sign the measure. Tonight he released a statement saying that the agreement would prevent “an unnecessary crisis that would have inflicted needless pain on millions of hardworking Americans. This bill ensures that active-duty troops will continue to get paid, travelers will be spared airport delays, millions of women and children will continue to have access to vital nutrition assistance, and so much more.” “But I want to be clear,” he continued: “[W]e should never have been in this position in the first place. Just a few months ago, Speaker McCarthy and I reached a budget agreement to avoid precisely this type of manufactured crisis. For weeks, extreme House Republicans tried to walk away from that deal by demanding drastic cuts that would have been devastating for millions of Americans. They failed.”
Biden noted that despite the bill’s lack of aid for Ukraine, McCarthy and the overwhelming majority of Congress have been strong supporters of Ukraine. He said, “We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted. I fully expect the Speaker will keep his commitment to the people of Ukraine and secure passage of the support needed to help Ukraine at this critical moment.”