Senate backs wide-ranging spending bill for a host of agencies
By MATTHEW DALY | Associated Press | Published: August 1, 2018
WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday approved a catch-all spending bill that funds a wide swath of government programs, from Interior and environment to agriculture, transportation, housing, Treasury and federal courts.
The $154.2 billion measure combines four spending bills into one and brings the Senate more than halfway to completing its 12 mandatory spending bills for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.
The bill was approved, 92-6, and now heads to the House, where a similar but not identical measure was approved last month.
Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, who chairs the Senate appropriations panel, said he was proud that the Senate was taking another step toward "regular order" in appropriations. He said he was grateful senators were willing to sacrifice partisan policy riders that have blocked spending bills in previous years.
The seven spending bills approved by early August are the most passed by that date in nearly 20 years, said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Shelby called approval of the combined spending bill "very important to all of us here, very important to our constituents and very important to our country."
But even as senators congratulated themselves for their progress on spending bills, they remained wary that a government shutdown could occur as soon as Oct. 1 amid a dispute with President Donald Trump over his push for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump on Wednesday repeated his public threats of a government shutdown, even as he has told aides privately he won't make any move until after the midterm elections.
"I say, 'Hey, if you have a shutdown, you have a shutdown,'" Trump told conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh. "I happen to think it's a great political thing, because people want border security."
Trump's comments followed several days of shutdown threats in which he declared he saw "no problem" in shutting down the government to secure backing for the wall, one of his key campaign promises.
But two officials said Trump recognizes the political cost of a shutdown before the November elections and has assured staff he won't provoke a fiscal crisis until after Election Day. A congressional aide said the White House sent a similar message to Capitol Hill amid widespread anxiety about a potential shutdown as Republicans face tough re-election fights with control of Congress at stake.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Tuesday that Trump is focused on fulfilling his border security promise.
"Whether a shutdown happens before or after the elections, his focus is getting the problem fixed," Gidley said.
The bill approved Wednesday includes $35.8 billion for the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency; $71.4 billion for Transportation and Housing and Urban Development; $23.2 billion for Agriculture; and $23.7 billion for the Treasury, judiciary and other agencies.
The bill does not include $250 million requested by Democrats for new grants to states to upgrade their voting systems to protect against hacking and other cyberattacks.
The proposal by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy received 50 yes votes, 10 short of the 60 needed for approval.
Leahy said he was disappointed at the vote, saying U.S. elections and "safeguarding our democracy" are not partisan issues.
"The president will not act. This duty has fallen to us, and we must not later be found to have been asleep at the switch with so much at stake," Leahy said, repeating a frequent complaint by Democrats that Trump has not acted decisively to protect the country during the upcoming midterms and beyond.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said the amendment was not needed because Congress just approved $380 million for voting system upgrades in March.
"Those upgrades have not occurred, been verified, nor have new state election cyber standards been implemented," Lankford said, adding that Congress should consider requests for additional funding after reviewing changes states make for the midterm elections.
Despite the setback on election security, Leahy lauded the overall spending bill, saying it continues strong support for farmers, supports regulatory agencies that Americans rely on to protect them from unfair or fraudulent business practices and "rejects the anti-science, know-nothing agenda proposed by the Trump administration."
The bill protects the EPA from drastic spending cuts proposed by Trump and supports national parks and other public lands, Leahy said.