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 Schumer (D-N.Y.) said ahead of the vote.
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 Shelby (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 Lowey (D-N.Y.) confirmed that another stopgap measure through February or March would be necessary.
“That’s what’s going to happen,” she said.
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 Trump.
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 McConnell (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 Biden 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.”
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 Hoyer (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.