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Senate sends spending package to Biden, wrapping up fiscal 2024

Vote finally ends tumultuous budget cycle, almost halfway into the fiscal year

Senate Appropriations Chair  Patty Murray, D-Wash., left, speaks with ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, before an Oct. 31 panel hearing.
Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., left, speaks with ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, before an Oct. 31 panel hearing. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

​The Senate cleared a second and final spending package in the wee hours of Saturday morning, bringing to a close the fiscal 2024 appropriations process nearly six months late.

The final 74-24 vote on the $1.2 trillion package capped roughly 12 hours of back-room negotiations over amendment votes that came close to dragging the process into Sunday or Monday. But Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., announced an agreement on amendment votes late Friday night that cleared a path for final passage.

“It wasn’t easy, but tonight our persistence has been worth it,” Schumer said in announcing the deal, which allowed the Senate to bypass procedural rules to speed up passage. Congress had been racing to complete work on the package in hopes of beating a Friday night deadline, when funding would lapse under a continuing resolution.

Both Democrats and Republicans found things to like about the measure covering about 70 percent of discretionary spending. Both sides stressed they did not get everything they wanted, after an agreement to raise the debt ceiling in June placed constraints on total funding levels. 

“We had to work under very difficult topline numbers and fight off literally hundreds of extreme Republican poison pills from the House, not to mention some unthinkable cuts,” Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., said on the floor ahead of the vote. “But at the end of the day, this is a bill that will keep our country and our families moving forward.”

The Senate cleared the package for President Joe Biden’s signature around 2 a.m., a couple hours after the 11:59 p.m. Friday deadline to fund the government, though the effects of a partial government shutdown were unlikely to be felt until Monday. The president is expected to sign the measure this weekend.

Twenty-two Republicans voted against the bill, along with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who protested the lack of Ukraine aid, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who sought funding for Palestinian aid.

The legislation would provide appropriations for agencies covered under the Defense, Financial Services, Homeland Security, Labor-HHS-Education, Legislative Branch and State-Foreign Operations bills.

Murray touted funding for child care, research for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, and efforts to combat the opioid crisis included in the bill. She also took aim at House Republicans, who for months resisted the parameters of the deal former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., struck with Biden, eventually ending up with a final result that resembled the original agreement.

“When we do work together, when we put our heads down and focus on solutions, and listen to our constituents, we can find common ground,” Murray said. “But when House Republicans … insisted on partisan poison pills, when they listened to the loudest voices on the far right — who, let’s be real, were never going to vote for any bipartisan funding bill — well, that got us nowhere.”

The House voted 286-134 to pass the bill earlier in the day, clearing the two-thirds majority needed to pass a bill under suspension of the rules. 

But in a blow to Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., the bill failed to win support from the majority of House Republicans, with 101 voting for it and 112 voting against it, after facing criticism from the party’s right flank. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., introduced a resolution to vacate the speaker’s chair after House passage of the appropriations package. 

The spending package faced a warmer reception in the Senate. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, praised the funding in the package directed at strengthening national security. 

“This legislation is truly a national security bill. Seventy percent of the funding in this package is for our national defense, including investments that strengthen our military readiness and industrial base, provide pay and benefit increases for our brave service members and support our closest allies,” Collins said on the floor ahead of the vote.  

She also highlighted funding for the border included in the package, including spending to support additional detention beds, border patrol agents and port of entry officers. 

‘Uncle Sucker’

Still, the legislation faced opposition among some Republicans, critical of the spending levels in the package and wary of its effect on the deficit. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., took the floor ahead of the vote to criticize the measure.

“Congress is poised to do what no American family would ever do. Congress is poised to spend a third more dollars than they receive,” Paul said. “Someone’s going to be asked to pay for it. That’s going to be you. Uncle Sam, Uncle Sucker will be asked to pay for it.”

Paul also took aim at the short turnaround between the bill’s release in the early hours Thursday morning to the final passage vote, saying members lacked adequate time to examine the 1,012-page bill and its more than 1,400 earmarks.

He went after projects like $1 million for Martha’s Vineyard hospital — “in one of the richest ZIP codes in the United States,” Paul said — and $2 million for a kelp and shellfish nursery at the University of Maine.

Overall, more than $1.9 billion worth of home-state projects made it into the bill, on top of $12.7 billion in the first spending package funding the remainder of federal agencies.

The House waived its 72-hour rule to hold the vote Friday morning, after posting the text around 2:30 a.m. on Thursday.

“Democrat and Republican leadership want this reckless spending bill to pass quickly to make sure no one has time to read or scrutinize the bill,” Paul said. 

Amendments 

The Senate moved to final passage of the legislation after dispensing with about a dozen amendments and related motions. 

The chamber voted down a handful of GOP amendments related to immigration. Those included one offered by Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., that would stop the release of immigrants flagged as potential national security risks during immigration proceedings and another, offered by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., to block funding to local governments that don’t inform the Department of Homeland Security ahead of releasing an undocumented immigrant from custody.

The Senate also tabled, or killed, an amendment offered by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would prevent the Biden administration from waiving sanctions on Iran and an amendment offered by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., that would block federal funding for schools that allow transgender women to participate in women’s sports.  

Adoption of any amendments would have derailed the entire spending package because it would have sent the measure back to the House, which left town Friday for a two-week recess.  

As part of the agreement, Schumer also agreed to hold a floor vote by April 19 on a bill modeled on an amendment offered by Sen. Michael D. Crapo, R-Idaho, that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing its tightened tailpipe emissions standards. The EPA regulations are designed to speed the transition to electric vehicles.

Paul M. Krawzak and David Lerman contributed to this report.

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