Senate passes $1.7 trillion government funding bill, teeing up House vote

Politics

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), holds a news conference to discuss the expanded Democratic majority in the Senate for the next Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 7, 2022. 
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Senate approved a $1.7 trillion government funding bill on Thursday, sending the legislation to the House, where it is expected to pass in time to beat a Friday night deadline to avert a partial federal government shutdown.

The final vote was 68 in favor and 29 opposed.

The 4,155-page bill will provide $772.5 billion for nondefense discretionary programs, and $858 billion in defense funding, according to a summary released earlier this week by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. The figures represent about a 5% increase in nondefense spending, and an 8% hike for defense and Pentagon programs.

The legislation also contains $44.9 billion in military, humanitarian and economic aid for Ukraine. The total includes funds to replenish Pentagon stockpiles of weapons the U.S. sent to Ukraine, along with additional aid for NATO allies.

The Senate vote came one day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy traveled to Washington and delivered a historic speech to a special joint meeting of Congress. Dressed in military fatigues and boots, he urged lawmakers to keep funding his country’s “war of independence” against invading Russian forces.

In addition to the Ukraine assistance, the measure provides $40 billion in new funding for states and tribal reservations to help communities nationwide recover from natural disasters, such as wildfires and major storms.

It also overhauls the federal Electoral Count Act, an 1887 law that former President Donald Trump and his allies sought to use to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election that Trump lost.

The changes clarify that the role of the vice president in certifying states’ electoral counts would be completely ceremonial, with no power to reject the results of an election that was certified by states.

In 2020, Trump repeatedly pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to certify the electoral votes for President Joe Biden. Pence refused to do so during the Jan. 6, 2021, certification process, becoming a target of the pro-Trump rioters who attacked the Capitol that day.

The Senate vote to fund the government was a bipartisan one. Republicans crossed party lines to back what many viewed as must-pass legislation.

Among them was Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who urged his caucus to back the bill. He called it “imperfect but strong.”

“If Senate Republicans controlled this chamber, we would have handled the appropriations process differently from top to bottom,” McConnell said Wednesday on the Senate floor.

“But given the reality of where we stand today, senators have two options this week: We will either give our armed forces the resources and certainty that they need, or we will deny it to them,” he said.

If the House passes the bill, it will represent another significant bipartisan win for Biden, who has notched a number of legislative victories in the past year on bills that passed with both Republican and Democratic support. Some of the most notable were the Respect for Marriage Act, the infrastructure bill and the CHIPS and Science Act.

Passing the federal spending package now will also ensure that government funding levels are set in stone while Democrats still control both the House and Senate. If either the Senate or House were to fail to advance the bill, there’s a good chance it would be punted into the new year, when Republicans will control the House.

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