Senators take up a stopgap spending bill, but Murkowski is doubtful it can prevent a shutdown

a woman on an airstrip
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaks with reporters at the Juneau International Airport on Aug. 16, 2023. (Mikko Wilson/KTOO)

The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to begin work on a stopgap bill that would keep the government funded until mid-November.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she wishes she could reassure everyone that the bill will pass and prevent a government shutdown.

“But I can’t tell you that because I am worried,” she said. “And I have been worried with each passing day, where it seems that in the House, it has just become not only more complicated, but just nastier. And it’s really hard to get hard work done when people cannot talk to one another. And that’s what we’re seeing in the House.”

Murkowski said a shutdown would hit Alaskans particularly hard because it has a high number of federal workers per capita.

Alaska has about 11,000 civilian federal workers, according to the Congressional Research Service. In a shutdown, some would be furloughed and some would have to work without pay.

The stopgap bill could get through a series of procedural votes and pass the Senate later this week. But in the House, Speaker Kevin McCarthy is hamstrung by the demands of right-wing Republicans, and some of them immediately rejected the Senate bill. They especially don’t like that it includes $6.1 billion in defense aid for Ukraine.

Murkowski, who visited Kiev this spring, said helping Ukraine is an investment in the defense of democracies around the globe, including our own. A shutdown, she said, would lower America’s standing internationally.

“That’s a pretty basic step – keep your government funded,” she said, outside the Senate chamber. “If the message is that we cannot even agree to do that, what kind of a statement does that send to the rest of the world about our reliability as a friend and an ally, as a partner in peace?”

The first procedural vote to take up the stopgap bill passed 77-19. Sen. Dan Sullivan voted yes. He sponsored a bill last week to pay the military, including the Coast Guard, in the event of a shutdown. Sullivan’s office did not respond to an interview request Tuesday.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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