Senate passes spending bill, punting shutdown threat to next week

The Senate on Thursday passed a short-term spending bill that punts this weekend’s shutdown threat to later in the month, but leaves questions about how Congress will fund the government through the rest of the year.

Senators voted 77-13 to send the funding measure to President Biden’s desk for his signature, just hours after the House voted overwhelmingly to pass the bill 320-99 and just a day before a tranche of government funding was set to expire.

GOP Sens. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Mike Braun (Ind.), Ted Budd (N.C.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Ted Cruz (Texas), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Mike Lee (Utah), Roger Marshall (Kan.), Eric Schmitt (Mo.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Tommy Turberville (Ala.) and J.D. Vance (Ohio) voted against the measure.

The stopgap bill will maintain funding for the departments of Agriculture, Interior, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Energy, Justice, Commerce, Energy and other offices through March 8.

Lawmakers will have until March 22 to wrap up fiscal 2024 funding for the Pentagon, the legislative branch and foreign operations, as well as the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, State and Homeland Security.

The passage comes a day after Senate and House leaders announced the bipartisan funding patch, which marks the fourth stopgap Congress has had to pass for fiscal 2024.

The stopgap bought lawmakers more time to come to an agreement on full-year funding, but hurdles remain.

House GOP leadership confirmed Thursday that bill text for the first package of six bills will come out over the weekend, as top appropriators have indicated negotiators are close to wrapping up loose ends on the forthcoming minibus.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, told reporters Thursday that “no poison pills” made it into the funding package, referring to the laundry list of partisan legislative riders Republicans were pursuing in funding talks.

Those proposed riders had included measures targeting abortion access, the Biden administration’s orders on diversity and gender identity, and a host of others that have drawn the ire of Democrats.

While hard-line conservatives have been ramping up calls for GOP leadership to secure partisan policy changes in the bills amid spending talks, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has tempered expectations for Republicans that were expecting “grand slams.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called on Johnson multiple times to disregard the hard-liners in his party who wanted him to fight for additions that could have jeopardized an agreement.

“As I said directly to the Speaker over and over and over again, the only way to get things done here is with bipartisanship, and this agreement is another proof point,” Schumer said on the floor earlier Thursday. “I hope this sets the stage for Congress to finish the appropriations process in a bipartisan way very soon.”

The exclusion of those policy riders has angered conservatives. And while spending cardinals are optimistic about the coming March 8 deadline, some have indicated more work is needed to wrap up the remaining six bills that come due March 22.

Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), chair of the subcommittee that crafts the annual funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security, told reporters Thursday that negotiations around the coming plan are still being “hashed out.”

He noted the difficulty appropriators face in trying to craft what are considered some of the tougher measures after both parties headed into negotiations with drastically different funding proposals.

“Some of the dollars that we were appropriated are going to [securing] the border, more detention beds, better use of technology, while Democrats have leaned more towards NGOs and facilitating processing folks at the border and asylum claims,” he said. “Therein lies a little bit of a dilemma.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who heads the subcommittee that handles the IRS funding bill, said Thursday negotiators are still “working through the numbers that are not finalized.” But he added GOP-backed riders are still holding up efforts to put a bow on the measure.

Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), who heads the same committee in the House, also noted negotiators have still “got a few issues” that they’re divided on as they continue talks, but signaled optimism about strides made so far.

“This has been a slog. It’s kind of worn people down a little bit, and I think there’s enough in these bills for us not to give up on,” he said.

Shortly before Thursday’s final passage, senators voted on four amendments. Among those were proposals by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would prevent the Federal Reserve from buying states’ debt, and by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on H.R. 2, the House’s border security bill.

Leadership could not afford for any of them to be attached to the funding bill as it would have forced the House to pass the final package again. The House adjourned for the week earlier in the day.

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