The Senate approved a $154.2 billion, four-bill fiscal 2019 spending package Wednesday as a continuing bipartisan effort in the chamber pushed it ahead of the House in the appropriations process.
The vote was 92-6. Republicans cast the opposing votes: Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania.
The Senate has now passed seven of the 12 annual spending bills; the House has passed six.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, applauded the bipartisan package for rejecting “draconian cuts” proposed by the White House. The biggest of those was the administration’s proposal to cut Transportation-HUD spending by more than $20 billion compared to current levels. The Senate instead increased spending in the Transportation-HUD measure.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the package included a $10 billion overall increase for infrastructure needs with a particular concentration on spending in rural areas. He noted that the package amounted to one-eighth of total discretionary spending.
“They represent four more steps toward the goal this Senate has set to fund the government through regular appropriations and steer clear of another omnibus,” he said.
Late Tuesday, senators adopted by voice vote a 46-amendment manager’s package of uncontroversial provisions agreed to by negotiators. In total, 280 regular amendments had been filed to the substitute amendment that later became the newly crafted four-bill package, replacing the House bill that had combined fiscal 2019 Financial Services and Interior-Environment bills.
The four bills in the package are the Senate versions of the Interior-Environment, Financial Services, Transportation-HUD and Agriculture spending bills — each of which received committee approval with bipartisan support and without problematic policy riders.
Before final passage, the Senate considered three amendments to the spending package, each requiring 60 votes for adoption. The votes were:
- 50-47, rejecting an amendment from Vermont Democrat Patrick J. Leahy to add $250 million for grants to states to strengthen security of their election systems. One Republican, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, voted for the amendment.
- 14-84, rejecting an amendment from Lee to prohibit the use of funds by the Food and Drug Administration to determine that only products made from cow’s milk could be labeled as milk. Lawmakers with ties to dairy-producing states opposed the amendment.
- 83-15, adopting an amendment from Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin to appropriate $7 million to carry out programs relating to the innovation, process improvement, and marketing of dairy products.
- A fourth amendment, from Cruz that would prohibit the District of Columbia from using funds to carry out its health insurance individual mandate had been scheduled for a vote, but was tabled 54-44.
Leahy made the motion to table, noting that he and Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby of Alabama had agreed “to keep the poison pills out” of the bill. Shelby supported the motion to table, citing the importance of the bipartisan approach to the appropriations process this year.
A Financial Services first
Passage of the measure was a win for both Oklahoma Republican James Lankford and Delaware Democrat Chris Coons. Lankford is chairman of the Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee and Coons is ranking member.
Both lauded the Financial Services section of the bill for marking the first time the Senate has ever passed a Financial Services spending title in 12 tries. The Financial Services title resulted from a reorganization of the appropriations process in 2007. The bill has since then only passed the Senate as part of a year-end omnibus, and never as it was approved in committee.
The House, meanwhile, has passed a Financial Services spending bill seven times.
“Usually, this particular appropriation bill is airdropped into an end-of-the-year spending package or omnibus bill without ever being publicly debated, without ever coming to the Senate floor, without a single amendment,” Lankford said on the floor Tuesday night. “This year changed that.”
The Senate action puts the chamber ahead of the House on the Transportation-HUD title. The House has not considered the Transportation-HUD measure on the floor since the full House Appropriations Committee approved it in June.
Senate Transportation-HUD Chairwoman Susan Collins of Maine said Wednesday she did not know the final allocation for the conferenced version of the bill, a crucial step for appropriators in both chambers to send a bill to the president. The $71.4 billion Senate version includes about $400 million less in discretionary spending than the House bill would allow.
House Transportation-HUD Appropriations Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart said last week he could start pre-conference negotiations with Collins once the final allocation is known, even if that comes before the House passes a bill.
“We can’t really start negotiating until we have the topline number,” the Florida Republican said.
Jacob Fischler contributed to this report.