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Senate moves ahead on short-term spending bill after Manchin-backed provision is removed

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) speaks during a news conference in Washington on Sept. 20. (Eric Lee/Bloomberg News)

The Senate moved ahead on a short-term spending bill to avoid a partial government shutdown later this week, a sweeping measure that would provide more than $12 billion to Ukraine, steer millions to Jackson, Miss., to deal with its water crisis and deliver billions in domestic disaster aid.

The chamber advanced the bill by a vote of 72-23.

The bill would fund the government through Dec. 16, giving negotiators more time to work out their differences and agree on government spending for fiscal 2023. The bill, known as a continuing resolution and released late Monday, would avert a shutdown that would begin Saturday.

Moments before a procedural vote Tuesday night, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) asked — and Democratic leaders agreed — to drop a hard-fought provision on permit reform.

“It is unfortunate that members of the United States Senate are allowing politics to put the energy security of our nation at risk,” Manchin said in a statement. “The last several months, we have seen firsthand the destruction that is possible as Vladimir Putin continues to weaponize energy. A failed vote on something as critical as comprehensive permitting reform only serves to embolden leaders like Putin who wish to see America fail. For that reason and my firmly held belief that we should never come to the brink of a government shutdown over politics, I have asked Majority Leader Schumer to remove the permitting language from the Continuing Resolution we will vote on this evening.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), in remarks on the Senate floor, said he had agreed to Manchin’s request.

The deal to accelerate the approval process for building new energy projects — which Republicans said was necessary to lower rising energy costs — was key to Schumer securing the vote of Manchin, the centrist Democrat from West Virginia, for the sweeping climate, health-care and deficit-reduction law President Biden signed in August.

But Republicans sought retribution against Manchin for his deal with Schumer.

“Revenge politics,” Manchin said at a Capitol news conference last week. “Republican leadership is upset, and they’re saying, ‘We’re not going to give a victory to Joe Manchin.’ … The bottom line is: How much suffering and how much pain do you want to inflict on the American people?”

Republicans made no effort to hide their intention to punish Manchin.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), a member of GOP leadership, called the Schumer-Manchin permitting deal a “political payoff” to Manchin. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said the deal and Manchin’s crucial vote for the climate/health-care bill “engendered a lot of bad blood” among Republicans. “There’s not a lot of sympathy on our side to provide Senator Manchin a reward,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday criticized the permit provision. “What our Democratic colleagues have produced is a phony fig leaf that would actually set back the cause of real permitting reform,” McConnell said.

The White House supports the funding resolution despite the fact that the bill does not include President Biden’s request for coronavirus and monkeypox.

“Our near-term priority is keeping the government open,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at the daily briefing. “We’ve been very clear about that to ensure vital services to the American people continue uninterrupted. And we know that shut-downs are incredibly disruptive and costly. There’s still time for Congress to pass a short-term funding bill by this Friday’s deadline, and we are confident they will do so.”

Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee who worked on the spending bill, said in a statement that “we have made significant progress toward a Continuing Resolution that is as clean as possible. But if the Democrats insist on including permitting reform, I will oppose it.”

Some Democrats who also oppose the energy permit provision said they will nonetheless vote for the continuing resolution.

The bill includes a package of aid to Ukraine in its fight against Russian forces, which invaded the country in February but have struggled on the battlefield. Among the funds are $3 billion to provide military assistance, including training, equipment, weapons and logistics support; $1.5 billion to replenish U.S. stocks of equipment provided to Ukraine or to foreign countries that have provided support; and $2.8 billion for continued military, intelligence and other defense support.

An additional $35 million will go to fund responses to “potential nuclear and radiological incidents” in Ukraine, and prevent that material from being stolen.

Domestically, $1 billion will go to help support families struggling with the cost of heating their homes this year and offset the costs of extreme weather events. An additional $20 million will go to water infrastructure projects in Jackson, Miss., whose 160,000 residents no longer have safe drinking water, which was declared an emergency in August by Biden.

The continuing resolution also includes $2 billion to respond to the ongoing effects of disasters this year and last. It also transfers funds from a disaster response program at the Defense Department to a program at the State Department helping resettle Afghans.

There is $112.5 million to improve security at U.S. courthouses and federal facilities, and money to extend the National Flood Insurance Program is also included in the legislation.

Congress has days to work out its differences and get legislation to Biden for his signature. The House returns Wednesday and could vote on the bill with just hours to spare.

Earlier, Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said she was “extremely disappointed” that the permitting deal was attached to the much-needed spending legislation but urged colleagues to support it.

The bill “includes funding to help communities across the United States recover from floods, wildfires, and hurricanes — natural disasters that are becoming more frequent and extreme as the climate crisis worsens. Additionally, with Russia holding fake elections to annex parts of Ukraine, the Ukrainian people urgently need our support to continue protecting their families and defending global democracy,” she said in a statement.