Senate panel approves three spending bills

Senate panel approves three spending bills
© Greg Nash

The Senate Appropriations Committee advanced three spending bills Thursday, showing signs of progress in an appropriations process that has largely derailed in recent weeks.

The committee approved a $74.3 billion bill covering the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, a $151.7 billion bill covering agriculture spending and a $24.2 billion measure for financial services and general government.

All three bills were approved by the committee in unanimous 31-0 votes.

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The committee also passed an amendment to the financial services bill that would allocate $250 million in election security funding for states.

The committee previously advanced an energy and water appropriations bill unanimously, but ran into road blocks on other bills.

The defense bill passed 16-15 last week in a party-line vote over Democratic objections that it would not block President TrumpDonald John TrumpTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill FDA head pledges 'we will not cut corners' on coronavirus vaccine Let our values drive COVID-19 liability protection MORE from redirecting the funds toward building a wall along the southern border.

Other measures are stalled, including one covering the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education — the largest domestic spending bill. Measures covering appropriations for the State and Veterans Affairs departments also were taken off the committee's agenda in recent weeks.

Democrats accused Republicans of short-changing the labor bill in favor of funding the wall, and backfilling funds Trump had reprogrammed in the military construction bill. Republicans were furious that Democrats planned to introduce abortion-related amendments to the labor and state bills, despite an earlier agreement to avoid controversial policy riders.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyWary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire MORE (R-Ala.) said he would be open to moving smaller, non-controversial bills through the Senate, even without progress on the larger spending bills, a suggestion floated by Vice Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing Vermont has a chance to show how bipartisanship can tackle systemic racism MORE (D-Vt.).

“Anything that would move the process in a substantive way, I’m going to be trying to promote,” he said.
 
“Sen. Leahy has talked about starting to move some of the smaller bills. The three bills today are almost 20 percent [of discretionary spending] and wouldn’t fail cloture," he added. 
 
But he also said his preference was to move ahead on defense, where he indicated that negotiations remained at an impasse.
 
"Democrats say no money for the wall," he said.

Democrats blocked the advance of a package of spending bills on the Senate floor Wednesday, raising questions as to how the appropriations process will proceed in the coming weeks.

The House is set to vote Thursday on a stopgap measure to keep the government open. The Senate is expected to take up that measure quickly after it is approved by the House.