Senate clinches deal to advance $1.7T government funding bill

By | December 22, 2022

The Senate clinched a deal Thursday morning that tees up passage of a $1.7 trillion government funding package in the coming hours, averting a shutdown that would have kicked in Friday at midnight.

The agreement to vote on the mammoth spending bill, H.R. 2471 (117), is a sharp turn from Wednesday night, when senators left the Capitol mired in gridlock over how to handle a politically tricky GOP border amendment. If approved, that proposed Republican-backed change could derail the entire package because it would spark a revolt from House progressives.

In the end, senators sought to resolve the impasse by adding two dueling border proposals to the list of 15 spending bill amendments that are set to get voted on Thursday. Both border plans are expected to fail, though the votes will give Democrats and Republicans a chance to stake out their positions on the issue without jeopardizing the fate of the broader funding measure, which would boost federal agency budgets through the fiscal year.

“We have an agreement now … It’s taken a while but it is worth it, and I appreciate the cooperation of everyone here,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said announcing the deal from the floor.

The deal puts Congress on a glide path to pass the spending package, which gives the Pentagon a 10 percent budget boost, includes about $45 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine and provides nearly $40 billion for disaster aid. The legislation is the final item on Congress’ to-do list before it leaves for the year, with members eager to get out of town as a winter storm threatens to lock down half the country.

House members have been warned to expect a late night of voting in order to quickly send the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk, allowing them to join senators in leaving town for the holidays.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told members in a private meeting Thursday morning that he would aim to get everyone out by that evening, according to multiple people familiar with his remarks — though he warned that it could be late, unlikely to be in time for evening flights. A big factor in the House’s timing is the protocol for transmitting any Senate-passed bill to the other chamber.

Hoyer told Democrats “it looks like we might be done tonight, but not in time probably to catch flights, especially because of all the weather delays,” said Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas.). “So it sounds like a late night.”

The main holdup was an amendment from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that ties funding for the Office of the Executive Secretary at Department of Homeland Security to the Biden administration preserving Title 42, the catch-all term used to describe Trump-era border restrictions tied to the pandemic.

Democrats had offered to give Lee a vote on his amendment at a 60-vote threshold. But Lee and Republicans wanted to lower the threshold to a simple majority of those voting. If every Republican backed the effort, then, that would require them to pick off only one Democratic senator in order to get the proposal into the bill.

Democrats view Lee’s proposal as a “poison pill,” according to one aide, because it would likely cause a revolt by House liberals who have the numbers to bring down the bill across the Capitol.

In the end, Democrats agreed to give Lee a vote at a simple majority. And Democratic senators found an off-ramp designed to give political cover to their members who want to vote for border funding without supporting Lee. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) offered an amendment that would provide new immigration and border funding while keeping Title 42.

“This year’s historic levels of border crossings at our southern border make clear the status quo is not working. Our amendment boosts funding for border security, increases resources for border communities, and extends Title 42 until a proper plan to manage the crisis at our border is in place,” Sinema said.

Senators were briefly kept in limbo on Thursday morning as they waited to see if Lee would accept the deal. Because of the time crunch, all 100 senators needed to sign off on the agreement, and any one member could have delayed things or rejected it.

But under the deal, the expectation is that Lee’s amendment will fail on the floor, because Democrats would vote against it. The Sinema-Tester proposal would also get a vote and similarly be expected to fail, because it would need to overcome a 50-vote threshold to advance.

Sarah Ferris and Nicholas Wu contributed.

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, the incorrect date for Thursday’s votes was used in an earlier version of this story.