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.

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Passage of the package of defense and domestic spending marks a significant victory for 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.), 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 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 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.

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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.