Senate passes first spending package as shutdown looms

The Senate passed its first fiscal 2020 spending package on Thursday, as lawmakers have weeks to prevent the second government shutdown of the year.

Senators voted 84-9 on the approximately $332 billion spending package, which combined four domestic spending bills covering the departments of Agriculture; the Interior; Commerce and Justice (along with science-related spending) and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

“Democrats and Republicans have been working through a package of appropriations bills. As is clear, the bills we are voting on, where there’s agreement, we can move forward. This week has shown the Senate can efficiently work through these bills when we have a bipartisan buy-in,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSchiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package Meadows: 'I'm not optimistic there will be a solution in the very near term' on coronavirus package Biden calls on Trump, Congress to enact an emergency housing program MORE (D-N.Y.) said ahead of the vote.

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The vote means that the Senate has now passed four of the 12 fiscal 2020 spending bills, nearly a month after the fiscal year started. Congress now has until Nov. 21 to fund the government — either by passing each of the full-year bills or another continuing resolution (CR).

Senators on both sides of the aisle are predicting that Congress will need to pass another CR next month given the snail's pace of the 2020 funding bills.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyNegotiators hit gas on coronavirus talks as frustration mounts GOP expects Senate to be in session next week without coronavirus deal Mnuchin: Negotiators no closer to coronavirus deal than a week ago MORE (R-Ala.) told reporters earlier this month that without a “miracle” lawmakers would need another stopgap bill.

“Unless a miracle happens around here with the House and the Senate, we will have to come forth with another CR,” Shelby told reporters, adding that a stopgap into February or March is “probably in the ballpark.”

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyHelping our seniors before it's too late House approves .3 trillion spending package for 2021 House approves two child care bills aimed at pandemic MORE (D-N.Y.) confirmed that another stopgap measure through February or March would be necessary.

“That’s what’s going to happen,” she said.

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Negotiations between the House and Senate on how to divvy up overall spending among the 12 bills — a step Democrats say is key to moving the process forward — have not borne fruit.

“Right now there’s no progress,” Lowey said.

Both chambers also need to work out their differences on the 2020 bills before a final deal can be sent to President TrumpDonald John TrumpMark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Trump camp considering White House South Lawn for convention speech: reports Longtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary MORE.

The House already passed 10 of its 12 spending bills, including a $383 billion spending package that included funds for commerce and justice; agriculture, interior and the environment; and transportation and housing and urban development but also military construction and veterans affairs.

But the Senate bill did not include the VA and military construction bill. Senators have held off introducing the bill amid deep partisan divisions over a plan to backfill $3.6 billion in 2019 military construction funding that was redirected to the border wall as part of Trump’s emergency declaration.

A House Democratic aide said there are no plans for a formal conference at this time. Shelby also indicated on Wednesday that he was unsure if lawmakers would go to conference, throwing the immediate future of the bills into limbo.

Despite the passage of the spending package there are still significant hurdles looming ahead of the Nov. 21 deadline to avoid a shutdown.

Senate Democrats are expected to block a second spending package on Thursday that will include a mammoth defense funding bill.

The Senate’s bill passed the Appropriations Committee along party lines after Republicans rejected an amendment that would have prevented Trump from shifting Pentagon money toward the border wall without Congress’s approval.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump's election delay red herring On The Money: Unemployment debate sparks GOP divisions | Pandemic reveals flaws of unemployment insurance programs | Survey finds nearly one-third of rehired workers laid off again OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump signs major conservation bill into law | Senate votes to confirm Energy's No. 2 official | Trump Jr. expresses opposition to Pebble Mine project MORE (R-Ky.) lashed out at Democrats on Thursday and noted that Democrats were going to block a bill that includes Ukraine assistance while investigating Trump for holding up Ukraine assistance. The House impeachment inquiry is focused on whether Trump delayed the Ukraine money as part of a strategy to get the country to open up an investigation into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Biden offers well wishes to Lebanon after deadly explosion MORE and his son, Hunter Biden.

“The same Democrats who recently rediscovered hawkish-sounding positions on Syria and the Middle East are really going to filibuster a $755 million for the counter-ISIS train and equip fund for Iraq and Syria? And filibuster all the other broader funding of our armed services? Really?” McConnell asked.

He added that the “core message here is hard to miss. Our Democratic colleagues have a priority list; picking fights with the White House is priority number one.”

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But Democrats have scoffed at McConnell’s criticism and urged Republicans to come to the table to get an agreement on the top-line spending numbers, known as 302(b)s. Republicans cleared the figures through the Senate Appropriations Committee on party lines; Democrats argue the GOP figures pad extra money into the Department of Homeland Security bill.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerGOP expects Senate to be in session next week without coronavirus deal This week: Negotiators hunt for coronavirus deal as August break looms The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Fauci gives his COVID-19 vaccine estimate MORE (D-Md.) sent a letter this week to McConnell asking that they “take a meaningful step forward and work together with us to reach bipartisan agreement on 302(b) allocations for all twelve appropriations bills.”

“Such an agreement is necessary for appropriators and all of our Members to do their jobs and fund our national priorities,” he wrote.

In addition the top-line figures, lawmakers have made little progress in resolving a looming showdown over the border wall. Trump has requested $8.6 billion for the wall as part of his 2020 budget request — a figure that cannot pass both chambers of Congress.

White House legislative director Eric Ueland told reporters this week that Trump was “very committed to the wall” as part of the government funding negotiations.

“We sent forward a budget earlier this year that had a complete amount of spending on the wall and we're going to fight very hard for all those resources as well as the president's ability to have access to resources in order to fully fund the wall,” he said.

Niv Elis contributed.