By KEVIN FREKING
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate appeared back on track Thursday to pass a $1.7 trillion bill to finance federal agencies through September and provide roughly $45 billion in military and economic assistance to Ukraine after lawmakers reached agreement on a final series of votes.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that the Senate had an agreement to consider some 15 amendments before voting on final passage of the package. Most of the amendments will be subject to a 60-vote threshold to pass, generally dooming them to failure in the evenly divided 100-member Senate.
“It’s taken a while, but it is worth it,” Schumer said in announcing the series of votes, which were needed to lock in an expedited vote on final passage and get the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk before a partial government shutdown would begin at midnight Friday. The House will take up the bill after the Senate completes its work.
The massive bill includes about $772.5 billion for non-defense, discretionary programs and $858 billion for defense and would finance agencies through September. Lawmakers were racing to get the bill approved before a shutdown could occur, and many were anxious to complete the task before a deep freeze and wintry conditions leave them stranded in Washington for the holidays. Many also want to lock in government funding before a new GOP-controlled House next year could make it harder to find compromise on spending.
Senators heard from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about the importance of U.S. aid to his country for its war with Russia on Wednesday night, but when lawmakers left the chamber that night, prospects for a quick vote looked glum. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., remarked “this bill is hanging by a thread.”
Lawmakers were in disagreement over which amendments were to be voted upon to lock in a final vote with Republicans looking to ensure that they had a chance to vote on a proposed amendment from Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, seeking to extend coronavirus pandemic-era restrictions on asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, also referred to as Title 42. His amendment would have prohibited federal dollars from being used to end the restrictions.
Passage of the Lee amendment would most certainly have doomed the bill in the House, forcing lawmakers to regroup and pass another stopgap spending measure at current funding levels to avert a shutdown.
But then, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an independent from Arizona, offered an amendment to boost border security funding and extend Title 42 restrictions. That gave some Democrats an opportunity to vote for her proposal rather than Lee’s. The measure gained only 10 yes votes while 87 voted against it. Republicans called the amendment a “ruse” that didn’t do enough and was designed to provide political cover from some of its supports on the hot-button immigration issue.
Soon afterward, Lee’s amendment also went down to defeat, 50-47, which put the Senate on a glidepath to a final vote in the early afternoon.
The spending bill is supported by Schumer and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, though for different reasons.
McConnell is citing the bill’s 10% boost in defense spending, which he says will give America’s Armed Forces the funding and certainty needed to ensure the country’s security.
McConnell is facing pushback from many Republicans who don’t support the spending bill and resent being forced to vote on such a massive package with so little time before a potential shutdown and the Christmas holiday. But it’s expected that enough Republicans agree with him that the bill will reach the 60-vote threshold needed to pass.
Schumer is touting the bill as a win on the domestic front as well as for national defense.
“Kids, parents, veterans, nurses, workers: These are just a few of the beneficiaries of our bipartisan funding package, so there is every reason in the world for the Senate to finish its work as soon as possible,” Schumer said.
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