Senate passes spending package to help avert a government shutdown
By Emily Cochrane
The Senate voted overwhelmingly earlier this week to move forward with a temporary spending package needed to keep the federal government running past Friday, drawing closer to averting a shutdown after Democrats dropped an energy proposal that had drawn bipartisan opposition.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader, had tucked the energy measure into the must-pass bill to fulfill a promise Democratic leaders made privately to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in exchange for Manchin’s vote last month for the party’s major climate, tax and health care law.
But the inclusion of the proposal, which would make it easier to build oil, gas, solar and wind infrastructure around the country, had rankled lawmakers in both parties and complicated the perennial autumn push on Capitol Hill to keep the government funded past the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.
At least two members of the Democratic caucus and several Republicans warned they would vote against the spending measure because of Manchin’s provision, making it unlikely that the legislation could move forward as long as it was included.
Without action by midnight Friday, federal funding will lapse; the spending bill under consideration would extend it through Dec. 16.
Shortly before the scheduled Tuesday evening vote, Manchin announced that he had asked Schumer to remove the language.
“It is unfortunate that members of the United States Senate are allowing politics to put the energy security of our nation at risk,” he said in a statement, adding that he believed “we should never come to the brink of a government shutdown over politics.”
In his own remarks, Schumer said he would continue to work with Manchin toward passage of permitting legislation before the end of the year. Other lawmakers in both parties said they would be open to negotiating a compromise.
That cleared the way for a bipartisan vote, 72-23, to move ahead on the measure. With the energy proposal removed, legislators aim to quickly pass the bill in both chambers in the coming days.
Manchin’s plan was intended to streamline the permit approval process for major energy infrastructure projects — including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a natural gas project that passes through his home state of West Virginia. Most of the other provisions in the package, including about $12.3 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine for its war against Russia and flexibility for the federal government to respond to natural disasters, appeared to generate little opposition.
The funding package, released just before midnight Monday, would punt difficult negotiations over the dozen annual spending bills until after the November midterm elections. It notably sidesteps the Biden administration’s request for emergency funds to combat the coronavirus pandemic and monkeypox, according to a summary from the Senate Appropriations Committee, because of Republican opposition.
But lawmakers in both parties expressed dismay that Democratic leaders had included the energy measure. The spending legislation needed 60 votes to move forward in the evenly divided Senate, which meant Republican support was necessary. And even if it had cleared that threshold in the Senate, it faced hurdles in the House, where dozens of Democrats had called for the permitting measure to be stripped out.
Lawmakers in both parties had expressed opposition to the details of the permitting legislation, which Manchin released last week. Republicans have said the legislation does not go far enough to ensure projects are approved more quickly, while liberal Democrats are alarmed at provisions that would make it easier to build fossil fuel infrastructure, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
In a floor speech on Tuesday, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, called Manchin’s measure a “phony fig leaf” that was written to drain the political will for actual reform without creating any meaningful change that liberal special interests might dislike.”
“The path is obvious,” McConnell added. “Drop the extraneous, partisan language.”
Within hours, Manchin had agreed to pull the energy proposal.
Some Democrats, including climate hawks, had signaled support for the permitting package because they said it would help speed up the construction of transmission lines and other infrastructure needed to combat climate change and help deliver on President Joe Biden’s pledge to cut U.S. emissions roughly in half by 2030.
But at least two members of the Senate Democratic caucus, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, had announced they would vote against the stopgap spending bill because of the permitting reform legislation.
Lawmakers aim to finish negotiating a broader spending package in the coming weeks.
“In a time of rising inflation, when everything costs more — energy, food, fuel, housing — we must respond accordingly,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Running on autopilot after December would be irresponsible, and the American people deserve more.”
Ukraine’s recent military success, including reclaiming territory from Russia this month, has rallied lawmakers, who have already approved roughly $54 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid this year, behind the prospect of pouring more money into the effort. If passed, the current package will mean the United States will have committed to sending the highest amount of military aid to any country in a single year since the Vietnam War, said William Hartung, a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute.
The new package would set aside $3 billion for training, equipment, weapons and intelligence support for Ukrainian forces, as well as $4.5 billion for the Economic Support Fund, which is intended to help the Ukrainian government continue to function. It also would allow Biden to authorize the transfer of up to $3.7 billion of U.S. equipment and weapons to the country.
The bill would ensure Afghan refugees granted parole could continue to receive the same benefits, but it does not include a pathway to permanent legal status.
The legislation also aims to address a few domestic needs, including $1 billion for a program that will help lower-income families with heating costs ahead of the winter. In addition to providing $20 million to help address the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, and $2 billion for a block grant program to help communities rebuild after natural disasters in 2021 and 2022, it would give the federal government more flexibility to spend existing funds to quickly address the toll of Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico, storms and flooding in Alaska, and other natural disasters.
The measure also includes the terms of a “user fee” agreement negotiated every five years between drug and device firms and the Food and Drug Administration. Top lawmakers suggested they would try to pass additional consumer-protection measures, potentially related to infant formula, dietary supplements and diagnostic tests, legislative priorities left out of the stopgap bill.