Senate sends $1.2T spending bill to Biden's desk in late night vote

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The Senate in the early hours of Saturday passed a sprawling $1.2 trillion package to fund large swaths of the government, capping off a dramatic negotiation in the upper chamber and an intense months-long spending fight. 

The chamber approved the mammoth package, which spans more than a thousand pages, in a 74-24 vote, sending the bill to President Biden’s desk for his signature. The final vote came around 2 a.m., two hours after the shutdown deadline.

The House passed the legislation in a bipartisan, 286-134 vote earlier on Friday.

The package is the second and final batch of annual government funding bills to clear Congress, about six months after the initial deadline for lawmakers to finish their spending work for fiscal year 2024, which ends in late September. 

The package — which combines half of the 12 annual funding bills — covers spending for the departments of Defense, Homeland Security (DHS), Labor, Health and Human Services, and State, as well as general government, financial services and foreign operations.  

Negotiations to expedite its passage in the Senate dragged on for hours Friday, as conservatives pressed for votes on amendments to the plan. At one point, many senators were pessimistic about the possibility of passing the bill before Sunday.

Any amendment added to the bill would have required it to go back to the House, which has already left Washington for a two-week recess — and risked putting vulnerable Democrats in the position of taking difficult votes.

The amendments Republicans have been pushing for include border measures like the Laken Riley Act, which would require detention of undocumented immigrants charged with theft-related crimes, senators say.  Another amendment, pushed by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), targets a Biden administration tailpipe emissions rule.

Republicans accused Democratic leadership of trying to shield vulnerable members from potentially tough votes in a critical election year. 

“Taking a handful of votes on proposals that are related to this massive spending bill is not too much to ask,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, wrote on X on late Friday. “So make no mistake, if the government shuts down, it will be because of one thing and one thing only: Democrat leaders protecting vulnerable incumbents from taking hard votes.” 

Meanwhile, Democrats accused Republicans of being unreasonable. 

“Everybody knows the truth,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said. “If we amend this bill in any way, there’s going to be a shutdown because the House is gone. The only option we have is to pass it as is, and so there’s a game being played.”

In the end, none of the amendments passed.

The Office of Management and Budget ceased shutdown preparations on late Friday, the White House said, after it became apparent the Senate would “imminently pass” the funding package. The president is expected to sign the bill later on Saturday.

“Because obligations of federal funds are incurred and tracked on a daily basis, agencies will not shut down and may continue their normal operations,” the White House said.

Conservatives all week have railed against the package for its funding levels and the Democratic-backed investments in the bill since it was unveiled in the wee hours of Thursday, after a last-minute fight over DHS funding delayed rollout of the package for several days.

In addition to the package’s size, conservatives have criticized funding secured by Democrats for certain community projects due to concerns related to abortion and immigration, dollars for construction of a new FBI headquarters and not going far enough to secure the border. 

Conservatives in the House also objected to the process by which the bill moved to the floor.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) earlier Friday filed a motion to vacate the Speaker’s chair in protest of the bill.

It’s the same move that was used to oust his predecessor, former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), when he put a bill on the floor to avert a shutdown despite opposition from the right flank and has already been met with fierce criticism from her GOP colleagues in both chambers. 

“I mean, quite honestly, if she feels very strongly about it, she knows that she could assert a privilege and get a vote. Instead it’s just sitting out there,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said. “So, just seems like, to me, a needless distraction.”

“I don’t see how it’s helpful to Speaker Johnson,” he added, while also comparing the move to when his teenage children “would act up.”

The package passed this week is largely in line with a deal brokered by President Biden and House GOP leadership last year to limit federal spending, with a bump of more than 3 percent in defense funding.  Nondefense funding is roughly flat, however, when compared to the previous fiscal year.

Despite opposition from conservatives, Republicans have touted investments on the border that they say allow for a greater focus on enforcement, including funding for more Border Patrol agents and detention beds, as well as boosts for border security technology.

The bills don’t make the drastic cuts House Republicans sought in their partisan funding proposals from last year, but the party has also boasted what it calls a break from previous years when both sides would haggle over parity between defense and nondefense funding increases.

Republicans have also lauded a concession secured from Democrats that blocks dollars to UNRWA, a key United Nations agency that provides relief for Palestinian refugees — a move that’s drawn anger from progressives in both chambers.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of only two non-Republicans who voted against the package on early Saturday, cited the cut as the main reason for his opposition.

“The main was this cut funding for UNRWA, which means that hundreds of thousands of starving children are not going to be able to get the food that they need, and I think that’s simply outrageous,” he told The Hill.

Democrats, meanwhile, have cheered fending off the steep funding cuts pushed by Republicans, as well as a string of so-called “poison pill” riders, including measures targeting abortion access and diversity initiatives. 

The party has leaned in on funding boosts secured in early childhood education and health programs, including Head Start, Child Care and Development Fund block grants and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.  

The package also increases funding for the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Health Resources and Services Administration. 

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