Senate averts shutdown, passes $13.6B in Ukraine aid
The Senate passed a massive bill to fund the government and provide new Ukraine-related aid, sending the 2,741-page bill to President Biden’s desk.
Senators voted 68-31 on the bill, which includes $1.5 trillion in government funding and $13.6 billion in aid tied to Ukraine.
The bill moved at lightning speed through Congress, passing the House less than 24 hours after it was unveiled early Wednesday morning. The Senate’s vote comes less than two days after the bill was introduced.
The Senate also passed by voice vote a days-long continuing resolution to buy time to get the massive legislation, which funds the government through the end of September, to Biden’s desk, after which he’s expected to sign it.
“It’s been a very productive and very bipartisan week in the Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.
“This bipartisan funding package is a significant and far-reaching win for the American people and I’m glad the Senate moved as quickly today as I hoped we would. To my colleagues on both sides of the aisle I say bravo, a job well done,” Schumer added.
All of the 31 “no” votes came from Republicans. But top GOP leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), backed the bill.
The two-day sprint to pass the sprawling funding measure wasn’t without drama.
Senate conservatives fumed over being pushed to quickly vote on a bill that they didn’t have time to read.
“There are a lot of people in my conference who are very upset — you can include me in that number — that once again we’re being asked to vote on legislation that we haven’t had a reasonable opportunity to read. There are a lot of people upset — I’m among that number — that we can’t seem to get amendments,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.).
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, acknowledged that “the process stinks.”
And senators haggled behind the scenes for much of Thursday as they tried to untangle GOP sticking points that could have slowed down the government funding and Ukraine aid.
Because the Senate was so close to an end-of-day Friday deadline to avoid a government shutdown, they needed buy-in from all 100 senators to speed up passage of the sweeping bill as well as the short-term bill.
That enabled any one senator to threaten to spark a temporary shutdown unless they got a vote on a priority.
In the end, three GOP senators got amendment votes: Sen. Mike Lee (Utah), Mike Braun (Ind.) and Kennedy.
Lee wanted to defund Biden administration vaccine mandates for medical workers, military personnel, federal employees and federal contractors. Braun wanted to strip out earmarks in the bill. Kennedy wanted to provide $2.5 billion in disaster relief for Louisiana.
But any changes to the sweeping legislation would have required it to be passed a second time by the House, which has left town for the week. Each of the three amendment votes failed. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also got a procedural vote on a stand-alone resolution to block an arms sale to Egypt, which failed as well.
Even as leadership appeared to have cleared agreements with Lee, Braun and Kennedy, the bill got stuck in limbo for roughly two hours amid a last-minute snag involving Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).
Several senators and aides say Sullivan’s sticking point was that he wanted a change made to the language of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization, which was included in the funding bill.
Conservative senators also tried to separate the Ukraine aid into a stand-alone bill, with Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) accusing Schumer of holding it “hostage” to the larger funding bill.
“The Senate has done nothing to get the aid they so desperately need approved and on its way. Why? Because Sen. Chuck Schumer is holding it hostage … to include in the omnibus,” Scott said.
But Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) blocked Scott’s attempt to get a vote on a stand-alone Ukraine aid bill, arguing that it would slow down Ukraine aid funding. Because the House is out of town, the funding would be held up until they came back next week and voted on it.
The deal on Ukraine funding includes roughly $6.5 billion for the Department of Defense, including more than $3 billion to bolster U.S. European Command and $3.5 billion to backfill equipment that the United States has sent to Ukraine.
It also includes nearly $4 billion for the State Department, including more money for humanitarian assistance programs, and nearly $2.8 billion for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Leadership hoped that linking the Ukraine assistance to the government funding bill would help speed up the package’s passage and guarantee broad bipartisan support.
“I think that’s going to add a sense of urgency … there’s no question about it,” Thune said.
The agreement also initially included $15 billion in coronavirus relief money, which would be paid for by repurposing previously passed COVID-19 money including aid for state and local governments.
But the provision was dropped by House Democratic leaders after a revolt from their own members, who opposed taking away money from their states.
Democrats are vowing to try to find a path forward for the funds, but a stand-alone bill to provide the coronavirus money wouldn’t be able to get enough support among Senate Republicans to pass unless lawmakers can agree on how to pay for it. The White House had initially wanted it to be emergency money, meaning it wouldn’t be paid for.
“I think sometimes you know take a win. The left in the House is walking away from a ‘yes,’ ” Thune said.
Updated March 11 at 10:45 a.m.
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