Senate passes spending plan to help avoid government shutdown

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to move forward with a temporary spending package needed to keep the federal government going last Friday, coming close to avoiding a shutdown after Democrats dropped an energy proposal which had attracted bipartisan opposition.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., the majority leader, had included the energy measure in the must-have bill to fulfill a promise that Democratic leaders had made privately to Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., in exchange of Manchin’s last vote. months for the party’s big law on climate, taxation and health.

But the inclusion of the proposal, which would facilitate the construction of oil, gas, solar and wind infrastructure across the country, had irked lawmakers in both parties and complicated the perennial fall push on Capitol Hill to maintain government funding after September 1. 30 year-end.

At least two Democratic caucus members and several Republicans have warned they will vote against the spending measure because of Manchin’s provision, making it unlikely the legislation could go forward while it is included.

Without action by midnight Friday, federal funding will expire; the spending bill under consideration would extend it until December 16.

Shortly before the vote scheduled for Tuesday evening, 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 endanger our nation’s energy security,” he said in a statement, adding that he believes “we should never come to the brink. of a government shutdown because of politics”. .”

In his own remarks, Schumer said he would continue to work with Manchin toward the passage of authorizing legislation before the end of the year. Other lawmakers from both parties said they would be open to negotiating a compromise.

That cleared the way for a bipartisan vote, 72-23, to move forward on the measure. With the energy proposal scrapped, lawmakers aim to quickly pass the bill through both chambers in the coming days.

Manchin’s plan aimed to streamline the permit approval process for major energy infrastructure projects, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a natural gas project that runs through his home state of West Virginia. Most of the package’s other provisions, including about $12.3 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine for its war against Russia and federal government flexibility to respond to natural disasters, appeared to generate little revenue. opposition.

The funding package, released just before midnight Monday, would end tough negotiations on the dozen or so annual spending bills until after November’s midterm elections. It notably bypasses the Biden administration’s request for emergency funds to fight the coronavirus pandemic and monkeypox, according to a Senate Appropriations Committee summary, due to Republican opposition.

But lawmakers from both parties expressed dismay that Democratic leaders included the energy measure. The spending legislation needed 60 votes to advance in the equally divided Senate, which meant Republican support was needed. And even though he had crossed that threshold in the Senate, he ran into hurdles in the House, where dozens of Democrats had called for the authorization measure to be removed.

Lawmakers from both parties had expressed opposition to the details of the permit legislation, which Manchin released last week. Republicans said the legislation doesn’t go far enough to ensure projects get approved faster, 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 Tuesday, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Minority Leader, called Manchin’s measure a “fake fig leaf” that was written to drain political will for real reform. without creating meaningful change that liberal special interests might not like.

“The path is obvious,” McConnell added. “Drop foreign and partisan language.”

Within hours, Manchin had agreed to withdraw the energy proposal.

Some Democrats, including climate hawks, had signaled their support for the permit package because they said it would help speed up construction of transmission lines and other infrastructure needed to fight climate change and help to deliver on President Joe Biden’s pledge to roughly halve US emissions. 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 that they would vote against the interim spending bill because of the legislation of authorizing reform.

Lawmakers aim to finish negotiating a broader spending package in the coming weeks.

“At a time of rising inflation, where everything is more expensive — energy, food, fuel, housing — we need to respond accordingly,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the appropriations committee. of the Senate. “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 about $54 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid this year, behind the prospect of investing more money in the effort. If passed, the current package will mean the United States will pledge the highest amount of military aid to any country in a single year since the Vietnam War, William Hartung said. Principal Investigator 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 to continue to operate. It would also allow Biden to authorize the transfer of up to $3.7 billion in US equipment and weapons to the country.

The bill would ensure that Afghan refugees on conditional release could continue to enjoy the same benefits, but it does not include a path to permanent legal status.

The legislation also aims to address a few domestic needs, including $1 billion for a program that will help low-income families pay for heating costs before winter. In addition to providing $20 million to help solve 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 deal with the toll of Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico, storms and floods 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 makers and the Food and Drug Administration. Leading lawmakers have suggested they will try to pass additional consumer protection measures, potentially related to infant formula, dietary supplements and diagnostic tests, legislative priorities left out of the interim bill.

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