Senate Moves to Pass Spending Package After Immigration Dispute Initially Delayed Votes
WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday appeared poised to pass a mammoth spending package and avoid a government shutdown after lawmakers overcame an impasse over immigration policy.
Senators returned to the Capitol on Thursday morning for a lengthy series of votes after reaching an agreement to expedite passage of the roughly $1.7 trillion measure that would fully fund the federal government and send another round of financial assistance to Ukraine.
While the overall package has significant bipartisan support, a deadlock over immigration sapped valuable time on Wednesday that was needed if lawmakers were to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the week. The measure is the last must-pass bill before the end of the congressional session, and senators were anxious to avoid a looming winter storm and head home for the holidays.
To beat the shutdown deadline, however, lawmakers had sought to use a fast-track process that requires the consent of all 100 senators. But before agreeing to the process, several senators demanded the opportunity to vote on a series of amendments in a bid to secure last-minute changes or force politically freighted votes, delaying an agreement on expediting passage of the bill.
“It has taken a while, but it is worth it,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said on Thursday as he announced the agreement to expedite passage of the bill.
The largest sticking point came from Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, who demanded a vote on an amendment that would essentially tie some funds for the Department of Homeland Security to the continuation of pandemic-era border restrictions that a majority of Democrats oppose.
What’s In the $1.7 Trillion Spending Bill
A sprawling package. Top lawmakers unveiled a roughly $1.7 trillion spending package that would keep the U.S. government open through September. Here is a look at some key provisions in the 4,155-page bill Congress is expected to pass this week:
Military spending is the big winner. The Defense Department would see an extraordinary surge in spending when adding its regular 2023 fiscal year budget together with additional aid for Ukraine. All together, half of the funding included in the bill goes to defense, or a total of $858 billion.
Making it easier (for some) to save for retirement. The package includes new provisions that would alter how millions of Americans save for retirement, including older people who want to stash away extra money before they stop working and those struggling under the weight of student debt.
Overhauling the Electoral Count Act. The legislation includes an overhaul of the 135-year-old law. Supporters of former President Donald J. Trump sought to exploit ambiguities in the law to disrupt the traditionally ceremonial counting of the presidential electoral ballots on Jan. 6, 2021.
A ban on TikTok on government devices. TikTok will be banned from all federal government devices under the bill. The move is intended to assuage heightened privacy and national security concerns about the app, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance.
International climate finance loses out. The bill includes just $1 billion to help poor countries cope with climate change. The figure falls far short of President Biden’s promise that the United States would spend $11.4 billion annually by 2024 to help developing nations adapt to a warming planet.
Other provisions. The bill also contains increased funding for the police, billions in aid for communities ravaged by natural disasters and a win for the lobster industry over whales. Read more about what’s in the bill, including more than $15 billion in earmarks.
But enough Senate Democrats support maintaining the Trump-era policy — which is known as Title 42 and allows the government to expel migrants who cross the southwestern border — that senators and aides feared the amendment would pass. A Senate Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, described the amendment as a poison pill that would prevent its passage in the House as progressive Democrats revolted against its inclusion.
“All I want is an up-or-down vote,” Mr. Lee said on Fox News on Wednesday. He added, “If they don’t give us the up-or-down vote, it’s going to be very difficult for them, and it probably will cost them the omnibus.”
The Biden administration planned to end Title 42 this week after a federal judge had ordered that the policy be halted, but the Supreme Court has issued a brief stay keeping the measure in place while it considers the matter.
The rule refers to the Public Health Service Act, a statute last used in 1929 to prevent ships from entering the United States during an outbreak of meningitis. But in 2020, as the coronavirus began to spread across the country, the Trump administration seized on the authority to seal the border to asylum seekers.
The rule has also occasionally been criticized by homeland security officials as not effectively driving down border crossings. While it empowers agents to quickly turn away migrants at the border, it also provides an opportunity for people to cross illegally again since they are not detained for a prolonged period in the United States.
As talks continued into Wednesday night, some Republicans appeared to dig in over their desire for a vote on the amendment. Mr. Lee is also among those who have objected to passing a sprawling spending package and have called for a stopgap bill that will punt negotiations to a Republican-controlled House next month.
“I support the omnibus bill — even though the process is broken and it is bigger than it should be — because it meets our national security needs,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on Twitter. “However, if the omnibus — which dramatically increases military spending and funds the government — fails because Democrats care more about letting Title 42 lapse than funding the federal government, so be it.”
As an alternative, Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a former Democrat who is newly registered as an independent, announced a separate amendment that her office said would extend Title 42 until a plan was in place to handle a surge of illegal border crossings and pour billions of dollars toward security officials, immigration judges and processing centers, among other security initiatives.
That amendment is likely to be set at a 60-vote threshold, giving it an uphill battle to pass in the evenly divided Senate. But it would also give centrist Democrats a chance to vote to maintain the Title 42 plan without allowing the Lee amendment to pass.
By allowing a vote on both amendments, lawmakers can stake their political positions without jeopardizing the substance of the broader package, given that House Democrats would reject a bill that extended Title 42.
While talks continued through the night in an effort to break the logjam, senators began leaving the Capitol around 9 p.m. on Wednesday. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, had previously said that he would not support a full-year funding package and would vote for only a stopgap bill should the Senate fail to act by Thursday.
Senators had hoped to approve the measure on Wednesday as President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine thanked Congress for previous rounds of aid and stressed the importance of continuing assistance to his country in an unusual speech before a joint meeting of Congress. The current package contains nearly $50 billion in aid to assist Ukraine against the Russian invasion and replenish American weaponry sent to the country.
The 4,155-page bill funds the government through September and substantially increases spending, providing $858 billion in military spending and more than $772 billion for domestic programs. To win the Republican votes needed for the measure to pass the Senate, however, Democrats agreed to a higher overall increase for military and defense programs compared with the health care, education and veterans affairs policies they champion.
Given that the measure is the last must-pass bill before the holidays and the end of the 117th Congress, lawmakers shoved dozens of separate funding and legislative priorities into the package. The compromise offered Democrats a final opportunity to set the federal budget while they still control both chambers of Congress, and lawmakers were eager to shepherd unfinished legislation into law with a single vote on passage.
The package also includes a bipartisan overhaul of the 135-year-old law that former President Donald J. Trump and his allies sought to exploit in an effort to stop the certification of the 2020 election. It contains about $40 billion in emergency aid for communities recovering from disasters, a ban on the Chinese-owned app TikTok on government devices and a collection of new rules intended to help many Americans save and pay for retirement.
Reporting was contributed by Nicholas Fandos, Lisa Friedman, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, David McCabe, Linda Qiu, Alan Rappeport, Noam Scheiber and Eric Schmitt.