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Senate passes bill to avert shutdown, fund government until Dec. 16

Democrats and Republicans agreed to a stopgap spending bill that includes $12.4 billion in new assistance to Ukraine

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) walks to a news conference on Wednesday. The Senate passed a bill Thursday to keep the federal government operating into December. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The Senate on Thursday passed stopgap legislation to avert a government shutdown, funding the federal government until Dec. 16 and approving new resources for Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion.

The rare bipartisan compromise, struck on the eve of the hotly contested midterm elections, advances a continuing resolution — a bill to sustain government funding at current levels, often called a “CR” — to the House for final approval. The Senate vote was 72-25; three senators did not vote. The lower chamber is expected take up the measure Friday.

Once Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) agreed to remove language from the legislation that would have overhauled federal rules for permitting large energy projects, the bill easily overcame a procedural vote in the evenly divided Senate on Tuesday, signaling a probable glide path to final passage.

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

The legislation includes $12.4 billion in military and diplomatic assistance for Ukraine in its now seven-month-long war with Russia but does not include money the Biden administration requested for vaccines, testing and treatment for the coronavirus or monkeypox.

After Manchin’s concession Tuesday, the permitting language was dropped from the bill. All Republicans and some Democrats had opposed that measure, raising the prospect last week that a fight over the issue might have led to a government shutdown.

“This legislation avoids a very bad thing — shutting down the government — and does a lot of good things: money for the people of Ukraine, funding for communities reeling from natural disasters, aid to families with their heating bills, just to name a few,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the floor just before the vote. “… I’m glad we came to a timely conclusion and didn’t come right up to the brink and risk a shutdown. Millions and millions of people can breathe easy knowing that we have done this in a timely way and the money to continue the government will be there.”

The federal government’s fiscal year ends Friday night at midnight, and without a new law to fund the government, it would have had to shut down. That would have sidelined everything from federal services, such as anti-poverty food assistance and customer service functions at the Social Security Administration and Internal Revenue Service, to national parks, which would have closed. Some of the 2.1 million federal employees would have their paychecks deferred.

The effects would also be damaging for an already fragile economy — and both parties’ chances at winning control of Congress in the November elections.

Democrats and Republicans are staring down polling data that shows control of both chambers of Congress is essentially a toss-up. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Wednesday that a GOP majority in the upper chamber was a “50-50 shot.”

“We’re in a bunch of close races,” he said, adding, “It’s going to be really, really close either way in my view.”

The interim government funding bill mostly does not advance new spending. It does set aside an additional $1 billion for a low-income energy utility assistance program, roughly a 25 percent increase. Policymakers are bracing for higher energy costs this winter as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues and most of the world’s largest economies have weaned themselves off Russian fossil fuels.

The bill includes $12.4 billion in aid for Ukraine: $7.8 billion in combined direct and indirect military assistance, $4.5 billion in support of economic stabilization and $35 million to secure nuclear materials in Ukraine and respond to potential nuclear incidents.

That funding, Democratic leaders have said, is crucial. Ukraine’s forces have staged counteroffensives in recent weeks to liberate territory formerly controlled by Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin last week drafted up to 300,000 reservists to prosecute the Kremlin’s waning attack and warned that nuclear weapons might not be off-limits in the conflict.

Pentagon will double powerful HIMARS artillery for Ukraine

But some Republicans have voiced opposition to continued funding for Ukraine’s defense and suggested that the U.S. aid package could shrink significantly if the GOP retakes Congress.

“The funding has enjoyed broad bipartisan support, but I do know, if history is any guide, that Congress tends to get fatigued at dealing with these sorts of issues,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) told The Washington Post on Thursday. “I think helping them defend themselves and to defeat Putin’s invasion is a good thing.”

The stopgap funding bill also contains $18.8 billion for domestic disaster recovery efforts, including Western wildfires, floods in Kentucky and hurricanes in the Southeast.

Resources to help Florida recover from Hurricane Ian, which struck the peninsula Wednesday as a Category 4 storm, may be included in subsequent funding packages, lawmakers said. Congress will have to pass a full budget or another continuing resolution in the “lame duck” session after the Nov. 8 elections to avoid another shutdown.

A spokesperson for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) said the storm’s devastation “will clearly require additional federal support in the months and years ahead.”

“We’ll be negotiating quietly the next few weeks. We’ll get it done,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) told reporters Thursday about passing a broader spending bill later in the year.

Democrats are likely to push to renew emergency funding for the pandemic and to fight spreading cases of monkeypox. A Biden administration program that sent more than 420 million coronavirus test kits to American homes expired on Sept. 8. White House officials had pushed for money to extend it, among other programs.

Those efforts, though, were undercut by Biden’s remarks earlier this month on “60 Minutes,” in which he said, “The pandemic is over.” That strengthened the GOP position to reject additional public health funding, lawmakers said.

“Covid’s over, so we don’t need any more money for that,” Cornyn said. “The truth is there’s still a lot of money sloshing around that, if there’s still needs — it needs to be reprogrammed.”

The bill also does not include Manchin’s environmental permitting measures for new energy projects. Manchin and Schumer struck a deal this summer to link Manchin’s support for the Inflation Reduction Act to a vote on permitting.

His legislation would shorten environmental review periods for energy project construction and require the president to designate 25 energy projects of “strategic national importance.” It would also require agencies to expedite approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile system awaiting final approval that is popular in West Virginia.

Republicans coalesced to block the measure, though changing permitting rules has been a popular issue on the right for years. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) put forward a competing bill that sapped GOP votes. Some senators, including Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.), declared their opposition to Manchin’s proposal because of environmental concerns.

Senate GOP, liberal Democrats find common cause: Sinking Manchin's bill

As the government funding deadline neared, Schumer pulled the permitting text out of the continuing resolution, with Manchin’s approval.

“I kept my commitment to Senator Manchin and look who blocked it — the Republicans,” Schumer said, noting that the permitting language would need 60 votes to defeat a filibuster.

Lawmakers signaled Thursday that they’re open to taking another shot at permitting legislation in other must-pass bills later this year, including the annual National Defense Authorization Act or another spending bill when the CR expires in December.

“Senator Capito and Senator Manchin need to work out their differences and we need to get 30 Republicans and 30 Democrats and stick it in the [defense bill],” Cornyn said Thursday. “Any port in a storm.”

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