Senate clears $154B ‘minibus’ spending measure

Senate clears $154B ‘minibus’ spending measure
© Anna Moneymaker

The Senate cleared a second appropriations measure funding four federal departments on Wednesday as it works to meet a Sept. 30 deadline for keeping the government open.

In a 92-6 vote, the Senate approved a “minibus” funding the Agriculture, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Interior Departments. The $154.2 billion measure also provides funding for financial services and general government.

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The six senators that voted against, all Republican, were Sens. Ten Cruz (Texas), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator: Gun control debate 'hasn't changed much at all' back home GOP senators call for Barr to release full results of Epstein investigation FBI Agents Association calls on Congress to make 'domestic terrorism' a federal crime MORE (Wis.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeMcConnell, allies lean into Twitter, media 'war' Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Criminal justice reform should extend to student financial aid MORE (Utah), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGraham promises ObamaCare repeal if Trump, Republicans win in 2020 Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Rand Paul to 'limit' August activities due to health MORE (Ky.), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseIt's time to empower military families with education freedom Bipartisan panel to issue recommendations for defending US against cyberattacks early next year The Hill's Morning Report - Trump lauds tariffs on China while backtracking from more MORE (Neb.) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns MORE (Pa.), mostly in protest of the overall spending level.

The Senate has now approved packages that including funding for agencies and programs in seven of the 12 traditional bills that need to be approved to fund the government.

The legislation largely rejects President TrumpDonald John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' MORE’s budget proposal, which sought massive cuts in discretionary spending. The Senate bills are part of a framework that would increase discretionary spending by $5 billion compared to 2018.

The Senate also rejected the more partisan approach in the House, where companion bills include conservative policy riders deemed “poison pills” by Democrats. The policy riders in the House bills seek to cancel Obama-era environmental regulations and shield politically active churches from losing their tax exempt status.

The different approaches will lead to a battle between the House and Senate in September, when the lower chamber returns from recess.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster Hickenlooper announces Senate bid Trump orders elimination of student loan debt for thousands of disabled veterans MORE (R-Ky.) is seeking to avoid both a shutdown and the need to pass a mammoth omnibus spending bill. President Trump vowed to never again sign an omnibus of that size after doing so earlier this year.

The Senate last month passed its first package of government funding bills, which merged money for energy and water, the legislative branch and military construction and veterans affairs.

Senators said their staff would be in touch with their House counterparts over the recess to begin merging the competing legislation.

The Senate is now expected to turn to funding for the Defense Department and Department of Health and Human Services, after taking next week off for its own recess.

Both bills can be lightning rods for controversial amendments, but senators hope moving them together will defuse any potential political fights.

“We hope to tie them together, marry them,” said Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyIn-space refueling vs heavy lift? NASA and SpaceX choose both Budget deal sparks scramble to prevent shutdown Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Appropriations Committee. “Let's see how the marriage works.”

Leadership in both parties have made returning to regular order on funding the government a top priority after years of gridlock.

They’re expected to get up to nine of the 12 spending bills to Trump’s desk before the Sept. 30 deadline. Doing so would mean Congress would have to also approve a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to fund the rest of the government.

Shelby and Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyAppropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions Graham moves controversial asylum bill through panel; Democrats charge he's broken the rules MORE (Vt.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, agreed to avoid poison pill proposals as they moved appropriations bills through their committee.

Leahy acknowledged there may be difficulties with the House.

“The House is proceeding on a different path. They have passed partisan bills filled with poison pill riders that cannot and will not pass the Senate,” Leahy said.

One looming issue is funding for a border wall. Trump has threatened to force a shutdown if Congress does not provide money for his priority.

Additional border wall funding would face an uphill fight in the Senate, where Republicans hold just a 51-49 majority. Democrats have demanded that additional border wall money be linked to a deal on “Dreamers,” certain immigrants who came into the country illegally as children.

Top Republicans are trying to downplay the chances of a shutdown over the border wall.

“It's not a good thing for anybody. And certainly 30 days before an election, having the prospect of a government shutdown out there is not something that I certainly would look forward to have happening,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (R-S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican. “I hope the administration comes to that conclusion as well.”