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.

ADVERTISEMENT

The six senators that voted against, all Republican, were Sens. Ten Cruz (Texas), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSurveillance fight emerges as intelligence flashpoint Congress eyes killing controversial surveillance program Whistleblower retaliation: Stop confusing unlawful attacks with politics MORE (Wis.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe Hill's Campaign Report: Sanders top target at CPAC Trump upends controversial surveillance fight Former impeachment managers clash over surveillance bill MORE (Utah), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulHillicon Valley — Presented by Facebook — Federal court rules tech giants can censor content | Trump upends surveillance fight | Senate passes bill barring federal funds for Huawei equipment Trump upends controversial surveillance fight Former impeachment managers clash over surveillance bill MORE (Ky.), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseSurveillance fight emerges as intelligence flashpoint The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders takes incoming during intense SC debate Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response | Top official warns virus appears inevitable in US | Democrats block two Senate abortion bills 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 TrumpThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Congress eyes billion to billion to combat coronavirus Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary 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 McConnellOvernight Energy: Murkowski, Manchin unveil major energy bill | Lawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget | GOP lawmaker accuses Trump officials of 'playing politics' over Yucca Mountain Lawmakers race to pass emergency coronavirus funding Trump upends controversial surveillance fight 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 ShelbyCongress eyes billion to billion to combat coronavirus On The Money: Stocks plummet into correction over fears of coronavirus spreading | GOP resistance to Fed pick Shelton eases | Sanders offers bill to limit tax breaks for retiring executives Lawmakers race to pass emergency coronavirus funding 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 LeahyDemocrats introduce bill to reverse Trump's shift of military money toward wall Republicans give Barr vote of confidence Democratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe 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 requesting .5 billion in emergency funding on coronavirus Republicans give Barr vote of confidence Trump creates new headaches for GOP with top intelligence pick MORE (R-S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican. “I hope the administration comes to that conclusion as well.”