Stopgap funding bill passes Senate; House vote on deck Friday
President Joe Biden, top lawmakers suggest more funding may be provided for hurricane aid in a post-election omnibus package
The Senate passed a short-term spending measure Thursday, sending to the House a bill that would avoid a partial government shutdown next week and boost aid to Ukraine.
The 72-25 vote capped days of behind-the-scene negotiations over last-minute concerns, as senators worked to secure the unanimous consent required to speed up final passage by midnight Friday, when current funding runs out and the new fiscal year begins.
"I'm glad we came to a timely conclusion and didn't go right up to the brink and risk a shutdown," Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said on the floor before the vote.
The House planned to take up the bill Friday morning, a congressional aide said. House Republican leaders were urging their members to vote against the bill, but the effort was unlikely to derail passage in the Democrat-controlled chamber.
A final hurdle was cleared when President Joe Biden issued an amended disaster declaration for Alaska, which suffered massive flooding and landslides this month after Typhoon Merbok hit the western part of the state.
Biden agreed to provide federal funding without any state matching requirement, as Alaska lawmakers had sought, in line with cost-sharing waivers the administration granted Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona hit. The initial declaration had required a 25 percent match.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said Thursday he would lift his “hold” on the continuing resolution since Biden had granted his request for full federal funding.
Sullivan and the rest of the state's delegation had been pressing the administration for days on the matter, with Sullivan unleashing a tweetstorm Tuesday. "Are the suffering and needs of Alaska Natives & rural Alaskans less deserving of federal support than our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico?" Sullivan wrote.
The spending measure would extend current funding until Dec. 16, by which time lawmakers hope to pass final fiscal 2023 appropriations in an omnibus package. The measure also includes about $17 billion in emergency spending, mostly to bolster Ukraine in its battle against a Russian invasion.
The stopgap also would inject nearly $19 billion into the Federal Emergency Management Agency's main disaster relief fund as Florida tries to recover from Hurricane Ian and Puerto Rico seeks to rebuild its electricity grid after extensive hurricane damage on the U.S. territory.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said on the floor that cash infusion would bring FEMA's disaster relief fund up to roughly $35 billion, though more for that agency and others may be considered in the "months ahead."
Earlier, Senate Appropriations ranking member Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., told reporters that additional funding to help recover from Ian and other disasters could be considered as part of the fiscal 2023 omnibus package in the lame-duck session.
Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said a further FEMA damage assessment would be necessary before more money is appropriated.
"They're going to really need it," she said. "There's a lot of money in the disaster relief fund right now, especially turning the corner into the next year, but I don’t know, they have to assess the damages.”
Speaking to reporters after a briefing at FEMA headquarters on Thursday, Biden said "we may" need more hurricane recovery funds.
Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said his concerns over allowing a swift vote were resolved. He'd wanted to offer an amendment to require notification to Congress when enough states have crossed the threshold to call a convention to consider constitutional amendments mandating balanced budgets and term limits for Congress.
But Braun agreed to back off in exchange for floor time to discuss his proposal. “I’m getting 10 minutes to talk about it because we’ve already worked out the deal,” he told reporters after the deal was struck.
"We as a party have to be for something that we stand for, and we got to all be willing to pay for it without borrowing from future generations, which we're currently doing," Braun added.
Braun said his and Sullivan's holds were the last two obstacles to a time agreement needed to facilitate final passage.
“Everyone wants to get out of here on time, and the hurricane is coming up this direction,” Braun said. "Everybody'd like to get back home."
The biggest obstacle to passage was cleared earlier this week, when West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III abandoned his effort to attach a measure aimed at expediting federal permitting for energy development projects.
Democratic leaders had agreed to take up the permitting bill as part of a deal to win Manchin’s support last month for a major climate change, health care and tax package. But his proposal faced attacks from both parties and lacked the 60 votes needed to win approval.
Passage of stopgap funding will be the last major legislation to clear Congress before it adjourns for lawmakers to campaign for reelection. While the House isn’t scheduled to return until after the November elections, the Senate schedule calls for reconvening in October.
Schumer said Wednesday that schedule remains in effect, mostly so the Senate can take up its annual defense authorization bill.
But Republicans have suggested they do not intend to return next month.
“That’s not happening,” said Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D.
“I think he’s spitballing there,” Thune said of Schumer’s scheduling plan. “I think that’s the official posture but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Thune said the defense bill, when considered later this year, could be a vehicle for a bipartisan energy permitting measure.