WASHINGTON — Senators agreed early Thursday on a series of votes setting up passage of a $1.7 trillion spending bill as legislators hurry to avoid a partial government shutdown and get out of Washington before a massive winter storm hits the capital.
“If we can keep this process moving, then we can finish in time for members and staff to get home for Christmas safely before the blizzard wreaks havoc across much of the country,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on the Senate floor Thursday.
The measure’s progress had been stalled over a proposed extension to the Trump-era Title 42 immigration policy, with lawmakers remaining at the Capitol until 2 a.m. attempting to hammer out a deal.
An amendment offered by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) would have cut funding to the Department of Homeland Security unless the White House reinstated Title 42, which had been scheduled to expire Wednesday before the Supreme Court stepped in and issued a stay.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) rescued the bill by introducing an amendment to extend Title 42 and increase funding and resources for border communities without cutting off DHS.
Both amendments were added to the last-minute queue of 18 amendments to be voted on Thursday before the bill could be passed and sent to the House — which could take it up as soon as Thursday night.
Congress has until 11:59 p.m. Friday to pass the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill to avoid a partial government shutdown.
While some GOP members have been hesitant to pass the bill before Republicans take control of the House in January, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has insisted funding the government through Sept. 30, 2023, is the best option.
“The bipartisan Republican bill before this body is imperfect but strong,” he said Wednesday. “It will make huge new investments in our armed forces while cutting non-defense, non-veterans baseline spending in real dollars.”
The bill was already more than half-finished last week when Congress passed the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act that gave $858 billion to the Defense Department. That left about $772.5 billion of the bill for non-defense, so-called “discretionary” programs — some of which rankled Republicans concerned with Democrats’ spending desires amid rising inflation.
“There are people going to food banks that weren’t going to food banks before, people coming out of retirement because they can’t afford inflation,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said Wednesday. “It’s only going to stop if we stop wasteful spending.”
Top-line domestic spending items in the 4,155-page bill include $118.7 billion for the Veterans Administration, $44.9 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine and NATO allies, $40.6 billion in disaster funding to help communities recovering from natural disasters, and $39 billion to the Justice Department.