The Senate on Thursday passed 68-29 a $1.7 trillion funding bill to set line-by-line spending levels at every federal agency across government, bringing Congress one step closer to setting appropriations for the remainder of fiscal 2023 and avoiding a shutdown Friday evening.
Congress worked late into the night Wednesday and reconvened Thursday morning before striking a deal on a series of votes that led to the final passage of the sprawling spending package. The Senate held votes on more than a dozen amendments reflecting both Democratic and Republican priorities before approving the bill, which now heads to the House. While Republicans in that chamber overwhelmingly oppose the measure, it is expected to win approval there as soon as Thursday and receive President Biden’s signature before the upcoming deadline.
The Senate had hoped to wrap up Wednesday ahead of winter storms across the country, but those plans hit a snag when Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, demanded a vote on his amendment to keep the pandemic-era border security policy known as Title 42 in place. The initiative—which allows the Homeland Security Department to quickly expel many migrants crossing the border without an opportunity to claim asylum—was set to expire Wednesday, but the Supreme Court paused that from taking place as it weighs hearing a related lawsuit. Lee said he would only accept an up-or-down vote on the amendment that would require a simple majority for passage, but Democrats balked at the proposal for fear it would win sufficient approval and make the overall omnibus bill dead on arrival in the House.
The two sides ultimately agreed to allow for a vote on a separate amendment, put forward by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., which would have also preserved Title 42 but provided for massive funding and hiring surges at agencies such as Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection field operations, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Executive Office of Immigration Review. Both that and Lee’s amendment failed. Title 42’s expiration is expected to put significant strains on federal resources at the border, though the Biden administration has repeatedly said that by moving personnel and surging other operations it will be able to handle the expected uptick in migrant crossings.
The underlying spending package provides an overall increase to non-defense discretionary spending of about 5.5% for a total of $773 billion, while Defense spending is set to soar by 10% to $858 billion. While Democrats failed to achieve their goal of equal funding increases on the two sides, the bill would achieve key priorities for both parties. Those include adding significant personnel and other resources for border agencies.
“A lot of hard work, a lot of compromise,” Schumer said of the omnibus after it passed. “But we funded the government with an aggressive investment in American families, American workers, American national defense. “It is one of the most significant appropriations packages we’ve done it a really long time.”
An agreement on the omnibus bill had evaded appropriators for months as they sought a compromise on the top-line funding level and the defense and non-defense spending levels. They reached an agreement last week and subsequently scrambled to fill in the details. Negotiators released the text of the omnibus early Tuesday morning and rushed to find an agreement on which agreements would receive votes and the timing of final passage. While some lawmakers bemoaned the condensed schedule, the looming snowstorm and the appeal of getting home for the holidays created an opening for all 100 senators to go along with the expedited timeline.
Negotiations went late into the night on Wednesday before an agreement on the timing of the vote was reached on Thursday, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., threatening to force a vote on Friday if a scheduling deal could not be struck. That created new drama as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., previously set Thursday as his deadline to support the omnibus over a short-term measure. Eventually, Schumer announced another postponement would not be necessary.
“We have an agreement now,” Schumer said from the Senate floor Thursday morning. “It’s taken a while, but it’s been worth it. I appreciate the cooperation of everyone here.”
On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnnell, R-Ky., implored his party to back the measure, suggesting it was “not a close call” as it would cut non-defense, non-Veterans Affairs Department spending when adjusting for inflation.
“There are literally two options before us,” McConnell said. “Number one, we can pass this bill, give our service members and commanders the resources they need, flip the president’s budget request on its head and actually cut baseline non-defense, non-veterans spending in real dollars, while we’re at it, or we can fail to pass this bill and give our armed forces confusion and uncertainty.”
The House will have a narrow margin to approve the bill, with Republican leadership whipping opposition to it. The slim Democratic majority will likely prove sufficient to get the measure across the finish line, however, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on Thursday morning her “hope” was her chamber could wrap up that evening.
“We’re waiting to see how long the debate goes there,” Pelosi said, referring to the Senate and noting that it takes several hours after Senate passage before the House can call a vote. “We want people to go home, and as you know there are storms across the country. So hopefully that will be a motivation for expedited discussion.”