Senate leaders plan to jump-start the stalled appropriations process by taking up a package of four spending bills this week that have strong bipartisan support.
Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, an Alabama Republican, announced plans to bring to the floor a package that combines the fiscal 2020 Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, Interior-Environment, and Transportation-HUD bills. The Appropriations Committee had advanced all four measures on unanimous votes.
A procedural vote to take up the bill could occur late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
The package, which would come to the floor as a substitute to a House-passed measure, would be the first step in a strategy outlined last week by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to start moving long-stalled appropriations for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1. Coming out of the House, the package contained a fifth bill, the fiscal 2020 Military Construction-VA measure; that bill hasn't been unveiled yet in the Senate, however, due to a partisan dispute over funding for the border wall project backed by President Donald Trump.
When work on the first package is completed, McConnell said last week, the Senate would proceed to a defense funding package that will also carry funding for opioids treatment and prevention, among other programs. The vehicle would be a separate House-passed package containing that chamber's versions of Defense, Labor-HHS-Education, Energy-Water and State-Foreign Operations bills.
In announcing the domestic spending package, Shelby made clear that Republicans view it as a stepping stone toward passing their top priority: funding for the military. “We need to consider and pass this passage expeditiously so we can take up the defense package,” he said in a statement. “Our national security is undermined by the failure of Congress to pass the military’s budget on time, and it is already Day 21 of the new fiscal year.”
But Democrats have already objected to considering that four-bill House package, blocking it from coming up for debate last month. They said the Senate versions would facilitate the Trump administration's military funds transfer for the wall project while shortchanging health care and education funding, which Democrats say would receive skimpy increases over fiscal 2019 levels.
The cloture vote on the motion to proceed Sept. 18 was 51-44, falling nine votes short of the necessary margin. Just two Senate Democrats voted for the motion — Doug Jones of Alabama and Gary Peters of Michigan — while GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky voted "no."
McConnell said Monday the votes this week would test whether Democrats are prepared to advance legislation, as they have pledged, even while pursuing an impeachment inquiry into Trump's dealings with the Ukrainian government.
"Two big votes," the GOP leader said in opening floor remarks. "Two big opportunities for our Democratic friends to show the country whether their party's impeachment obsession leaves them any room at all for the pressing business of the American people."
Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York suggested Democrats were prepared to support the first package of bills because those measures were advanced with broad bipartisan support. "Of course we want to legislate when it's being done in a fair way," he said on the floor Monday in response to McConnell.
But Schumer said other bills would face Democratic opposition, including the Defense, Military Construction-VA, Homeland Security and Labor-HHS-Education measures. "There are certain bills that were not done with any consultation," he said. Those bills won't be allowed to move forward, he said, "until we have some bipartisan agreement."
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