Senate votes to avoid government shutdown, starts work on budget

The Senate on Wednesday approved legislation that prevents a government shutdown and allows the upper chamber to begin work on passing a budget.

In a 73-26 vote, the Senate approved a $984 billion continuing resolution that keeps the government funded through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The House is expected to approve the bill before adjourning on Thursday.

Twenty-five Republicans and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) voted against the measure.

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The spending bill includes the same funding levels as legislation already approved by the House, and would keep the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.

Passage allowed the upper chamber to immediately pivot to the budget offered by Senate Democrats, which, if approved, would be the first Senate budget in four years. Dozens of amendments are expected to be considered, but by moving to the budget on Wednesday, the Senate has a shot of completing its work before the weekend.

Without the deal, a final vote on the continuing resolution would have been scheduled for Thursday afternoon, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had warned he would not let senators go home until work on the budget is completed.

The funding vote moved forward after a deal on amendments between Reid and Senate Republicans.

Several GOP amendments were considered, but Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) dropped their insistence on continuing debate into Thursday unless they got votes on their proposed amendments.

The deal announced Wednesday doesn't eliminate the possibility of weekend votes, but it does make it more likely that the Senate could complete work on the budget sometime on Friday.

Reid threatens to keep the Senate in session on the weekend, but rarely follows through. However, the threats this week were seen as realistic given his determination to not go into the recess without a budget. House Republicans are set to approve their budget Thursday, and Reid wanted to avoid a scenario where Democrats would be without a budget for a two-week recess.

The Senate government-funding bill, negotiated by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), added three full appropriations measures to the House version, but retained the funding levels of the House bill.

While the House’s measure funded Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs programs, the Senate version adds specific appropriations for Agriculture, Homeland Security and the Commerce, Justice and Science funds.

The original House version added $2 billion for embassy security in the wake of last September’s attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and provides $363 million in additional funding for nuclear security and $129 million more for FBI salaries, among other things.

It retains a pay freeze for federal workers and does not provide funding for the healthcare law, two provisions that provoked some grumbling from Democrats.

Several amendments were added to the Senate bill, including measures to prevent cuts to tuition assistance to members of the military and to ensure food inspectors are not furloughed.

In a vote last week, Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) amendment to remove a $140 million earmark to Guam was approved after he pointed out that the National Defense Authorization Act passed last year removed that funding.


A list of the other amendments that passed follows: 

- Sen. James Inhofe's (R-Okla.) amendment that would delay enforcement of an Environmental Protection Agency rule against farms on oil spill regulations from the end of May to the end of September by prohibiting use of funding for the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure rule.

- Inhofe and Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) amendment would ensure funding for tuition assistance of Armed Service members, which was threatened under sequestration.

- Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) amendment 65 would direct the National Science Foundation to fund research that is in the interest of national security.

- Coburn amendment 70 would require all Department of Homeland Security-related reports issued to the Senate Appropriations Committee also be given to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

- Mikulski and Shelby's amendment to make technical-corrections to the language of the bill.

- Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) amendment related to reducing the use of cluster munitions.

- Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Mark Pryor's (D-Ark.) amendment would close a funding gap for the Food Safety and Inspection Service and ensure that food inspectors are not furloughed due to the sequestration cuts that went into effect March 1.

- Mikulski and Shelby’s final substitute amendment, making all of the Senate additions to the House bill.


--Erik Wasson contributed to this report.

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