Senate Appropriations speeds through spending bills

Greg Nash

The Senate Appropriations Committee hit a milestone Wednesday, clearing its 12th and final annual spending bill at the earliest point since 1988.  

The committee approved the last bill — which included $52.08 billion for the State Department and foreign operations — by a vote of 30-0.

{mosads}Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) took a victory lap, touting the 12 completed bills as “overwhelmingly bipartisan.”

It’s the second straight year that Cochran has helped push through all 12 bills, with the help of retiring ranking member Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). Both leaders have credited the opposite party’s willingness to compromise in this year’s appropriations cycle, which included the chamber’s first bipartisan health spending bill in seven years.

The Senate now has a slate of nine spending bills to approve on the floor before leaving town July 15 for the national party conventions.

The compressed schedule makes it far more likely that lawmakers will have to approve a stopgap measure to avoid a government shutdown this fall, particularly given the political landmines that have doomed spending bills in the House.

Cochran urged Senate GOP leaders to consider the remaining bills despite the impasse in the House.

“All senators should have an opportunity to consider these bills.  That will require continued bipartisan cooperation as we move forward,” Cochran said in a statement Wednesday.

The committee’s record productivity comes after bold promises from Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) earlier this year to “restore order” to the spending bill process.

So far, three bills have been approved on the floor: for transportation and urban development; military construction and veterans affairs; and energy and water.

The energy and water bill cleared the full Senate in May, breaking a 40-year record to become the earliest stand-alone appropriations bill approved by the full chamber.

Still, the prospect of the nine remaining bills being approved appears increasingly bleak with the dwindling time in the Senate and renewed fighting over once bipartisan bills like funding to fight the Zika virus. And all three of those already passed measures represent some of the chamber’s least contentious bills historically.

The Senate has muscled through its appropriations process despite a near-standstill in the House.

Spending bills have screeched to a halt in the lower chamber as a result of explosive policy debates on issues as varied as LGBT protections and gun violence, the Zika virus, and Planned Parenthood funding.

The House appropriations process faltered from the start. GOP leaders failed to agree on a budget resolution — which sets the general framework for the year’s spending bills — because of conservative backlash over total spending levels.

Even after the House Appropriations Committee resumed the consideration of its bills, GOP leaders have not made it clear how they would address the nearly inevitable logjam that would result because of the same GOP tensions over debt.

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