Senate passes first 2019 funding bill

Greg Nash

The Senate on Monday passed its first funding bill for the 2019 fiscal year as lawmakers try to avoid a high-profile shutdown fight heading toward the fall. 

Senators voted 86-5 to approve a “minibus,” which merged funding for energy and water, the legislative branch and military construction and veterans affairs. 

The low-drama Senate floor debate marks a stark U-turn from the intense GOP feuding over a mammoth defense policy bill, where Republicans blocked each others’ amendments and sniped at each other during a closed-door policy lunch. 

Lawmakers have until the end of September to fund the government and avoid the third shutdown of the year. 

{mosads}But they’re trying to avoid jamming through another omnibus after President Trump in March railed against a similar bill that cleared Congress in a matter of days and sparked heated backlash from conservatives. 

Trump, at the time, blasted the $1.3 trillion spending bill, calling it a “ridiculous situation.” Though he ultimately backed down from a short-lived veto threat, he warned Congress at the time that he would not sign a similar bill in the future. 

Instead, leadership has prioritized moving smaller spending bills as they try to avoid needing to pass either a short-term continuing resolution (CR) or an omnibus, which would roll the 12 individual appropriations bills into one mammoth piece of legislation.

Senators hope that Monday’s vote will set a precedent as they plan to start moving additional, potentially more controversial, funding bills that could derail the chamber’s early progress. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said with Monday’s vote, the Senate “will be putting more common sense back into” how they fund the government. 

“I’m optimistic the same will be true for the nine remaining appropriation measures. Great progress has already been made at the committee level, and I look forward to considering more legislation on the floor soon,” McConnell said.

Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) added during an appropriations hearing late last week that he and McConnell “both committed to work through appropriations in a bipartisan way, through regular order, something the Senate hasn’t achieved in some time.” 

Monday’s minibus includes approximately $146.6 billion in spending, an increase of roughly $5.7 billion from 2018, and represents a quarter of the 12 annual appropriations bills. The bills fund the Department of Veterans Affairs, energy infrastructure including nuclear safety issues, as well as the Senate and several legislative bodies such as the Government Accountability Office.  

The three appropriations bills already cleared the House earlier this month, and will need to be conferenced to work out differences. The Senate’s versions are expected to be closer to the final results given its 60-vote threshold, which will require Democratic support.

Congressional leadership then hope to send the bills for signature at the White House, which could make the rest of the process considerably easier, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), an appropriator, said Thursday.

“My expectation is that as we complete them, they’d be sent to the president to sign them,” he said.

Signing a few bills at time over several months would take the political bite out of passing an enormous omnibus bill, reduce the scope of a possible shutdown, and let Trump keep his promise never to sign a mammoth piece of spending legislation again.

The White House touted the Senate’s early work on appropriations bills during a statement of administration policy released on Wednesday. But the administration warned it did not support the increase in non-defense funding included in the bill because “the nation’s long-term fiscal constraints and the need to right-size the federal government.” The White House issued a similar warning about the House legislation.

The Senate will now turn to more controversial spending bills. The Appropriations Committee has already sent to the full chamber funding bills for agriculture; commerce, justice and science; interior environment; transportation and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

The panel approved three additional spending bills on Thursday: Financial services and general government; State, foreign operations and related programs and funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 

As part of its effort to avoid the gridlock that has frequently plagued the Senate’s appropriations process in the past, Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) have pledged to avoid so-called “poison pill” proposals. 

“As part of this deal, Vice Chairman Leahy and I agreed to reject not only partisan riders —our own, too — but also new authorizations in the 2019 appropriations bills,” said Shelby, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, describing their agreement on the Senate floor. 

But the DHS legislation, in particular, could be a lightning rod for controversial amendments, including proposals on Trump’s family separation policies and the border wall. 

Shelby and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who chairs the homeland security subcommittee on the Appropriations panel, met with Trump at the White House earlier this week. Trump pressed the two senators during the closed-door meeting on funding for his controversial U.S.-Mexico border wall. In a conversation with The Hill, Capito described Trump as “frustrated.” 

The homeland security funding bill includes $1.6 billion for border barriers. But Shelby acknowledged after the White House meeting that the president was demanding more funding. 

“We believe that we’re trying to get a good down payment on the wall. It takes a long time to build,” Shelby told reporters. Pressed if Trump wanted more funding Shelby added that he was “sure [Trump] would like a lot more. All presidents do.” 

Shelby said Trump did not indicate if he would veto the DHS funding bill without more wall money. But two administration officials told The Washington Post that Trump had threatened to shutdown the government over the issue. 

Trump has warned that he wants Congress to provide funding for the U.S-Mexico border wall and threatened to veto a mammoth omnibus bill in March because it did not provide the full $25 billion in funding.

“I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded,” Trump tweeted at the time.

Tags Appropriation bill Appropriations bill Chuck Schumer Continuing resolution Donald Trump Jerry Moran Minibus Mitch McConnell Omnibus spending bill Patrick Leahy Richard Shelby Shelley Moore Capito

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