The Senate cleared a one-week government funding bill on Friday by voice vote, forestalling the threat of a government shutdown at midnight and capping off hours of drama after several senators threatened to hold up the resolution.
The last-minute agreement to fast-track the short-term funding fix came after a handful of senators dropped efforts to tack on other provisions. The measure, which passed the House on Wednesday, now heads to President Donald Trump for his signature. It buys congressional negotiators a little more time to finish up talks on a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending package that would boost federal agency budgets for the rest of the fiscal year, in addition to billions of dollars in pandemic aid that millions of Americans will lose over the holidays.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — who had been pushing for a vote on another round of stimulus checks — relented after threatening to block passage of a broader funding bill next week without a vote on direct payments.
“If I have anything to say about it — and I guess I do — we’re not going to go home for the Christmas holidays unless we make sure that we provide for the millions of families in this country who are suffering,” Sanders said on the Senate floor.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who has campaigned in recent days with Sanders for additional stimulus checks, also pushed for action next week.
“There’s a lot of different vehicles that could move next week. That’s why I say it’ll be an interesting week,“ Hawley said. “The president supports it, the speaker of the House supports it, the majority leader supports it. This ought not be difficult. I’m hopeful we can get it done.“
Republican Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana had also blocked the brief stopgap spending measure in an ironic effort to force a vote on legislation that would prevent future shutdowns. But Braun said he acquiesced after a voting agreement on the one-week continuing resolution got too complicated. He added that he “probably” won’t try to force a vote on the issue next week.
Earlier Friday, Sen. Rand Paul dropped his opposition to the stopgap spending bill and annual defense policy legislation. The Kentucky Republican on Thursday threatened to oppose passage of the defense bill over a provision that would hamstring Trump’s ability to reduce American troop levels in Afghanistan.
“I think it’s a pretty important principle to discuss,” Paul said of the defense policy package. “So we did hold things up for a day on that but we’re not going to on the [stopgap spending bill].”
Republican Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and James Lankford of Oklahoma, who were among a group of conservatives pushing for votes on anti-shutdown legislation, also signaled earlier Friday that they wouldn’t hold up the one-week continuing resolution over the issue.
“It doesn’t make sense to shut down the government“ over legislation aimed at preventing government shutdowns, Johnson said Friday.
Lankford echoed the Wisconsin Republican, saying: “While I’m arguing against government shutdowns, my goal isn’t to cause one.”
While the weeklong stopgap punts the government funding deadline to Dec. 18, congressional negotiators realistically only have a few more days to finalize a massive government funding package and a fiscal stimulus deal that has eluded Congress for months.
Familiar headaches like funding for the border wall and the Department of Homeland Security continue to trip up an agreement on a 12-bill omnibus package, which would fund the government through Sept. 30 of next year. Lawmakers are also wrestling with how to classify $12.5 billion in veterans’ health spending through the VA Mission Act — legislation that Trump himself has championed.
Top appropriators originally agreed to classify that money as “emergency“ spending not subject to overall funding limits. They want to preserve what small increases are allowed in fiscal 2021 non-defense spending and spread that money elsewhere, while avoiding cuts to popular programs that would follow if they had to accommodate veterans’ health cost increases as non-emergency spending. Republicans are now objecting to that arrangement.
Congressional leaders, meanwhile, are launching a last-ditch effort to secure billions of dollars in pandemic aid for millions of struggling Americans, which they hope to attach to an omnibus agreement.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday suggested that Congress may need more time to clinch a compromise on both.
“If we need more time, then we take more time,” she said. “But we have to have a bill and we cannot go home without it,” she said of an omnibus and government funding. “We’ve been here after Christmas, as you know.”
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.