Shutdown prevented, but new aid to Ukraine blocked: A few hours before an impending budget freeze, the US Congress passed an interim budget and thereby averted a so-called shutdown. On Saturday evening (local time), the Senate voted with a large majority in favor of a text previously passed by the House of Representatives, which ensures funding for the federal authorities until November 17th, but does not contain any additional aid to Ukraine. US President Joe Biden signed the interim budget into force shortly before the deadline at midnight (local time, 6 a.m. CEST).

Immediately after the Senate vote, Biden called on Congress to release new funding for Kyiv in a separate bill. “Under no circumstances can we allow American aid to Ukraine to be interrupted,” the president warned. The Republican leader of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, must keep his commitment to “the Ukrainian people” and get new aid through the chamber of Congress.

With the Senate vote with a majority of 88 votes in favor and nine against, a budget freeze was prevented just three hours before the crucial deadline. If Democrats and Republicans hadn’t reached an agreement at the last minute – which it looked like for a long time – the shutdown would have come into force at midnight (local time) at the start of the new fiscal year. Hundreds of thousands of state employees would then have had to be sent on unpaid leave and numerous public institutions would have had to be closed.

The budget dispute had kept Washington in suspense for weeks. At the center were right-wing hardliners among the Republicans in the House of Representatives who are demanding massive spending cuts – and are also opposing Biden’s new $24 billion (22.7 billion euros) in aid to Ukraine. The opposition Republicans make up the majority in the House of Representatives, while the Senate is controlled by Biden’s Democrats.

During the week, Republican and Democratic senators initially presented a compromise proposal for an interim budget that would have included around $6 billion in new aid to Ukraine. McCarthy, under pressure from the far-right wing of his group, rejected the text and put forward his own proposal. However, this failed on Friday in the House of Representatives due to resistance from the ultra-right hardliners. The signs were pointing to a shutdown.

But in a dramatic twist on Saturday, McCarthy presented a new proposal for an interim budget that would ensure funding for federal authorities for around 45 days, thereby creating time for new budget negotiations. However, this text did not contain any new aid to Ukraine.

There were turbulent scenes in Congress: While the Democrats were examining the text, one of their representatives, Jamaal Bowman, set off a fire alarm in a congressional building. Bowman’s office said it was an accident. However, the Republicans accused the representative of trying to delay the process.

The text ultimately passed the House of Representatives with a clear majority of 335 votes to 91, with more Democrats voting for McCarthy’s text than Republicans. The Democrats were bitter about the cancellation of new aid to Ukraine, but wanted to avoid a budget freeze at all costs. The text was then adopted by the Senate at around 9 p.m. (local time). The White House announced Biden’s signing of the text at around 11:15 p.m.

In the USA there have been repeated budget freezes in recent decades. The last occurred in December 2018 and January 2019 under then-President Donald Trump — and was the longest in U.S. history at 35 days. The background at the time was the dispute over Trump’s desire to build a border wall with Mexico.