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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 seeking information on FBI dealings with Bruce Ohr, former DOJ lawyer Election Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms Senate Homeland chair vents Mueller probe is preventing panel from receiving oversight answers MORE (Wis.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenators pledge action on Saudi journalist’s disappearance Bernie Sanders: US should pull out of war in Yemen if Saudis killed journalist Senators warn Trump that Saudi relationship is on the line MORE (Utah), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSaudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Noisy democracy, or rude people behaving like children? Lawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks MORE (Ky.), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseGOP lawmaker on Trump's 'Horseface' comment: 'That's not the way men act' Republican senator and Sean Hannity clash over claims in new book GOP senators praise Haley as 'powerful' and 'unafraid' MORE (Neb.) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight 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 Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race 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 TrumpTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing 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 McConnellGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump officials ratchet up fight over drug pricing | McConnell says Republicans could try again on ObamaCare repeal | Dems go on offense against GOP lawsuit Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel 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 ShelbyDisasters become big chunk of U.S. deficit Lawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks Florida politics play into disaster relief debate 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 LeahySenate Dems ask Trump to disclose financial ties to Saudi Arabia Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Missing journalist strains US-Saudi ties | Senators push Trump to open investigation | Trump speaks with Saudi officials | New questions over support for Saudi coalition in Yemen 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 ThuneThrough a national commitment to youth sports, we can break the obesity cycle Florida politics play into disaster relief debate GOP chairman: FEMA has enough money for Hurricane Michael MORE (R-S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican. “I hope the administration comes to that conclusion as well.”