Senate approves $854B spending bill

The Senate is racing to avoid the third government shutdown of the year ahead of a looming end-of-the-month deadline.

Senators on Tuesday voted 93-7 to pass a sweeping $854 billion spending bill that includes funding for the departments of Defense, Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor and Education, which make up the lion’s share of total government spending.

Six Republican senators — Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcSally campaign to suspend TV ads, canvassing amid pandemic Coronavirus isn't the only reason Congress should spend less time in DC Trump Jr. says he inherited 'Tourette's of the thumbs' from his father MORE (Ariz.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeJustice IG pours fuel on looming fight over FISA court Senator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy Trump on Romney's negative coronavirus test: 'I am so happy I can barely speak' MORE (Utah), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGeorgia governor says he didn't know asymptomatic people could spread coronavirus McConnell: Impeachment distracted government from coronavirus threat Warren knocks McConnell for forcing in-person Senate vote amid coronavirus pandemic MORE (Ky.), David Perdue (Ga.), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseAmerica's governors should fix unemployment insurance Mnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump's war against coronavirus House Republican urges Pompeo to take steps to limit misinformation from China on coronavirus 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.) — joined Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight MORE (I-Vt.) in voting against the legislation, which also includes a short-term stopgap bill to fund the rest of the government through Dec. 7 and prevent a shutdown that would start Oct. 1.

ADVERTISEMENT

Passage of the package of defense and domestic spending marks a significant victory for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill On The Money: Economy sheds 701K jobs in March | Why unemployment checks could take weeks | Confusion surrounds 9B in small-business loans 13 things to know for today about coronavirus MORE (R-Ky.), who has dedicated weeks of floor time to government funding and avoiding another catch-all omnibus bill less than two months before the midterm elections, where control of Congress hangs in the balance.

It’s the first time the Senate has approved funding for Labor, HHS or Education outside an omnibus bill since 2007, though even then the package was not completed on time. The bills normally get bogged down by fights over partisan riders, but Senate negotiators agreed early on to avoid attaching them to their legislation and were able to keep them out of the final House-Senate version of the package.

“These milestones may sound like inside baseball, but what they signify is a Senate that is getting its appropriations process back on track, a Senate that is attending to vital priorities for our country,” McConnell said.

Despite containing only two appropriations bills, the package represents roughly two-thirds of Congress’s 2019 spending. Of the $854 billion, $785 billion fell under agreed-upon budget caps, and the rest came from off-budget funds such as Overseas Contingency Operations.

It includes provisions for military pay raises, defense research, increases for Pell Grants and the National Institutes of Health, and workforce development training, among others.

The House is out this week but expected to take up the funding legislation next week, ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline to keep the government funded.

Congress already sent an initial spending bill to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves MORE’s desk that funded military construction and veterans’ affairs, the legislative branch, and energy and water. If Trump signs both bills before the end of the month, that would allow lawmakers to get five out of the 12 individual appropriations bills to his desk before the end of the 2018 fiscal year.

The two chambers are working on a third package of four bills they hope to send to the president as well, but differences remain between the House and Senate. Those bills include agriculture, interior, financial services and transportation funding measures.

A continuing resolution (CR) in the bill extends funding for all other agencies through Dec. 7, after the midterm elections.

The inclusion of the resolution in the Department of Homeland Security bill puts off a contentious debate on Trump’s proposed border wall.

ADVERTISEMENT

While Trump could still choose to veto the spending bills, congressional leaders have expressed confidence that the inclusion of the defense bill with the CR will make it difficult for him to do so.

And Trump told Fox News earlier this month that he “most likely” would not shut down the government, a move that would spark a risky fight for Republicans less than two months before the midterms.

“I guess when you get right down to it, it is up to me,” Trump said during an interview with Fox News about shutting down the government, “but I don't want to do anything to hurt us or potentially hurt us.”

Instead, senators are bracing for a December fight over funding for the border wall, with both chambers far apart on how much to include. The House version of the bill included $5 billion of funding, while the Senate version included $1.6 billion and limited construction to fencing along a 65-mile stretch of the Rio Grande Valley.

Trump had made getting funding for his border wall a top priority, including threatening to veto a March spending bill that he and his conservative allies felt didn’t include sufficient funding for the wall.