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Senate passes three fiscal 2024 spending bills in ‘minibus’

Schumer calls House spending work a 'futile exercise'

Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement after passage that the Senate spending bills are the only ones with a chance of becomin law, contrasting them to House bills.
Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement after passage that the Senate spending bills are the only ones with a chance of becomin law, contrasting them to House bills. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate on Wednesday voted 82-15 to pass the first three of its fiscal 2024 appropriations bills in a “minibus” as the House tees up votes this week on three of its remaining seven fiscal 2024 appropriations bills. 

Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York praised the Senate’s bipartisan appropriations work Wednesday morning ahead of the chamber’s passage of the package combining the fiscal 2024 Military Construction-VA, Agriculture, and Transportation-HUD appropriations bills. 

“The only way to get things done in divided government is bipartisanship. The House is going through a futile exercise of passing partisan appropriations bills that have no input or support from Democrats. They’re going nowhere,” Schumer said. “The Senate has bipartisan bills and that is the real difference here. Sooner or later the House and the new speaker will learn the lesson, if you don’t do it bipartisan, it ain’t getting done.”

Before passing the package, the Senate adopted by voice vote a substitute amendment offered by Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., that replaced the text of the House-passed Military Construction-VA bill that the Senate used as a vehicle with the text of the three spending bills.

The Senate rejected four amendments earlier in the day, all offered by Republicans and requiring 60 votes to be adopted. 

Those included a pair of amendments offered by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. One would subject the Federal Reserve to audits by the Government Accountability Office. The second would cut about $30 billion to lower the discretionary spending provided in the Agriculture and Transportation-HUD bills to the levels approved by the House Appropriations Committee in its 302(b) allocations. It would also rescind $25 billion provided for IRS enforcement in the 2022 climate and tax law. 

The Senate also rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, that would require congressional approval for rules promulgated by federal agencies that would have at least $100 million annual impact on the economy; significantly increase costs on consumers, industries or governments; or stifle competition or innovation. The provisions mirrored a bill introduced by Paul.

The chamber also rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would direct U.S. officials on the International Boundary and Water Commission to pursue enforcement of the 1944 treaty on Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande. Cruz said Mexico had been slow to deliver the 350,000 acre feet of water to the Rio Grande Valley as mandated by the treaty.

Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., withdrew his amendment that would stop the Transportation Department from directing state and metropolitan transportation authorities to establish their own targets for lowering and measuring carbon emissions. He said leadership unfairly subjected it to a 60-vote threshold even though it was germane to the package. 

“One has to ask why my bipartisan, germane amendment is deemed, quote, ‘a poison pill’ and now needs 60 votes to pass. Well, I know the answer is simple: because it was going to pass, that’s why,” Cramer said, noting that he offered the amendment on behalf of himself and Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va.

The Transportation Department proposed the rule last year, but hasn’t finalized it. If the department moves forward with the rule, Cramer said he would put forward a measure to rescind it under the Congressional Review Act, which would require only a simple majority to pass. 

In all, the Senate adopted 31 amendments to the package, including a handful of Republican-offered provisions supported by Democrats and independents, many of them up for reelection next year, despite opposition from Democratic leadership.

Those included an amendment offered by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., to bar money provided by the package from going to Chinese entities; an amendment offered by Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., to preserve gun rights for veterans deemed mentally unfit to manage their benefits; and an amendment offered by Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, to block the Transportation Department from enforcing a federal mask mandate to address COVID-19.

The Senate adopted 28 of the amendments by voice vote, including one offered by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, to require agencies to report on employees working remotely, including from areas with lower costs of living. 

Other amendments adopted by voice vote included provisions to fund telehealth for veterans, recruit commercial pilots from diverse communities, ban seafood from China in school lunches and shift money to support animal friendly housing for victims of domestic violence and their pets. 

Passage of the Senate’s first three fiscal 2024 appropriations bills comes as the House Rules Committee readies the chamber’s Interior-Environment and Transportation-HUD spending legislation for floor consideration this week.

Newly minted Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has laid out an aggressive schedule for consideration of the remaining spending bills with plans to bring to the floor the Financial Services and Commerce-Justice-Science bills next week, and the Labor-HHS-Education, and Agriculture bills the week of Nov. 13. The House failed to muster the votes to pass the Agriculture spending bill in September.

Federal government funding runs out Nov. 17.

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