Senate approves $1T omnibus

Greg Nash

The Senate approved the $1 trillion omnibus spending bill Thursday, sending it to the White House for President Obama's signature and sparing the government from another government shutdown.

Senators voted 72-26 in favor of the bill, and all "no" votes came from Senate Republicans, including GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip John Cornyn (Texas). That followed a 72-26 vote to end debate, which needed 60 votes.

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With the Senate's passage, Obama has until the end of Saturday to sign it into law — Saturday is when federal funding runs out.

A day earlier, the House passed the omnibus bill 359-67, with 64 "no" votes coming from Republicans who argued that it spent too much and complaining that Congress had just a few days to assess the 1,500-page bill.

On Thursday, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) was one of the few vocal opponents of the bill.

Among other things, he argued that it included nearly $68 billion of Pentagon appropriations that were unrelated to national security.

“There is no question this bill will pass today ... [but] this hole is getting deeper, deeper and deeper,” Coburn said. “We're wasting a ton of precious dollars that could be used to save somebody's life.”

Most senators spent Thursday afternoon praising the level of cooperation that allowed both parties in both chambers of Congress to agree to the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) praised the work of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), and said she has “done something that no one else could do.”

“This bill finally increases investments in the middle class,” Reid said. “Is it perfect? Of course not, but there are so many good things to say about this bill.”

Mikulski said after the vote that it was one of her top five legislative achievements over a long career and said it had the potential to diffuse some partisanship in the Senate. 

"I feel very relieved of course and happy that it passed with a strong vote, a bipartisan vote," she said. "The thing that we established was a tone, that we could do it in a way that everybody had their say especially in the committee...Our predecessors didn't allow an open amendment process and members felt stifled."

The chairwoman said that in the coming year her committee would pass all 12 individual appropriations bills for the first time in years.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said the bill is a “pretty good appropriation considering where we are.” Both he and Mikulski said they hope getting spending for fiscal 2014 out of the way will let Congress get back to regular order as it takes up 2015 spending.

The bill makes compromises in numerous areas — it reduces an ObamaCare fund by $1 billion and provides less funding than some wanted on Dodd-Frank financial reform regulation, but it also includes a 1 percent pay hike for federal workers.

More broadly, the bill is the first time since 2012 that Congress has passed a detailed funding plan for the government. It also mitigates the impact of the sequester, which required discretionary cuts that both Republicans and Democrats alike were under pressure to restore.

The Senate was on track to pass the bill as late as Saturday, but was able to speed up the timetable with the agreement of both parties.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who famously filibustered a short-term spending bill last year over ObamaCare, was on the floor shortly before the voting started. He asked unanimous consent to include two amendments to defund ObamaCare, but made no move to delay consideration of the bill.

Mikulski raised objections each time, which prompted Cruz to say there is no excuse for Congress not to dismantle the healthcare law given its effect on insurance premiums and job creation. “The essence of irresponsibility is seeing a harm and seeing the facts, and refusing to act,” he said.

Cruz, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who have bickered over policy at times, all voted against the omnibus.