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After High Hopes in Senate, a Pit Stop for Spending Package

A long list of amendments slows progress, pushing potential floor vote till next week

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks back to his office after the Senate GOP leadership press conference in the Capitol on Tuesday, July 24, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks back to his office after the Senate GOP leadership press conference in the Capitol on Tuesday, July 24, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved Thursday to invoke cloture on the chamber’s four-bill fiscal 2019 spending package, setting up the potential for a floor vote next week.

While House members are already leaving town for August recess, the Senate plans to stick around for part of the month

The Kentucky Republican filed motions on both the underlying bill for the appropriations package and Sen. Richard C. Shelby’s substitute amendment. McConnell filed a series of cloture motions on Thursday afternoon, leaving it still unclear when exactly the chamber is likely to get to the vote on appropriations.

Shelby, the Appropriations Chairman, had said early in the day the final vote would be next week after senators complained about amendments not getting appropriate consideration.

“We won’t move the bill, barring a miracle, today,” he said Thursday morning.

McConnell said the next Senate votes would be at 5:30 p.m. Monday on his motion to invoke cloture on the nomination of Britt Cagle Grant to be U.S. circuit judge for the Eleventh Circuit.

Shelby and other Senate leaders held out hope as recently as Wednesday that they’d vote on a $154.2 billion, four-bill fiscal 2019 appropriations package Thursday. A long list of amendments, however, slowed progress.

The package contains the House-passed Interior-Environment and Financial Services spending bills. The Senate’s substitute amendment, which the chamber plans to adopt before passage, contains text of the Senate versions of the Interior-Environment and Financial Services bills, plus the Transportation-HUD and Agriculture bills — each of which moved out of committee with bipartisan support.

Two amendments — one to bolster election security grants and the other to permanently authorize a public lands conservation program — controlled most of the attention of bill negotiators Thursday. Backers of the amendments took to the floor to force consideration.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, demanded action on his amendment to increase election security funding by $250 million. A similar amendment did not make the bill during the Appropriations Committee’s markup, falling along party lines.

“My amendment would provide the funding needed to help protect our elections, which we have been warned are once again being targeted,” Leahy said. “This Senate must be allowed to vote to defend this institution and our democracy.”

The election security issue has come to the forefront of the appropriations process in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s statements in Helsinki that cast doubt about whether he believed the conclusion of U.S. intelligence services that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. The White House has since walked the comments back and forth, but Democrats have seized on the issue during the appropriation process.

Leahy’s amendment was pushed with other considerations into next week.

On the Interior-Environment title of the bill, Republican Sens. Cory Gardner and Richard M. Burr are pressing for consideration of their amendment to permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a popular public land conservation program for which authorization for funding expires at the end of September.

The two sought unanimous consent to bring up consideration of their amendment, but Interior-Environment Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski objected, citing the two parties’ agreement to keep authorizing language out of this year’s appropriation process.

But that does not mean the LWCF battle is over, as senators could continue their effort and force a vote at some point.

Burr warned he would pester the floor with requests to vote on his LWCF reauthorization bill throughout the remaining work days on the calendar.

“Watch what I said, because you will be given the opportunity before I leave this institution to vote time and time again, if, in fact, procedurally we’re blocked from letting the American people’s voice be heard with a vote in the United States Senate,” Burr told the floor. 

Also Watch: Odds of a Government Shutdown Tick Up as House Leaves for Recess With Unfinished Business

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