The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, March 26, 2022 (Photo by Marisa Demarco / Source New Mexico)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate advanced a catchall spending package Tuesday that would provide billions to aid Ukraine’s war effort, help communities throughout the country recover from natural disasters and keep the federal government funded through mid-December.
Democrats and Republicans voted 72-23 to move the measure toward a final vote later this week — a success that was only possible after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer removed from the measure an energy permitting reform bill from West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III.
The Manchin plan had drawn widespread rebuke from most Republicans, a few Senate Democrats and a large group of progressive U.S. House members — all of which could have risked passage of the government funding package before current law expires on Friday at midnight.
Schumer announced he would remove the energy permitting bill from the larger package on the Senate floor late Tuesday afternoon, shortly after Manchin released a statement calling on Schumer to do so.
Schumer said in his floor speech that he’d work with Manchin and others “to have conversations about the best way to ensure responsible permitting reform is passed before the end of the year.”
West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said just after the news broke that she didn’t know Manchin was going to call on Schumer to remove the energy permitting reform bill, which she planned to support.
Capito said negotiations on energy permitting reform will likely continue and noted that it could be attached to the National Defense Authorization Act, the annual policy bill for the Pentagon.
“I think the NDAA is still out there,” she said.
Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley said in a statement removing Manchin’s permitting reform bill from the government spending package was the “right move” and urged leaders to keep it off “any future ‘must-pass’ legislation.”
“Many would agree that our permitting system could be improved,” Merkley said. “If the Senate is going to take up these questions in the future, it must be with a deliberative committee process and a robust, stand-alone floor debate that gives the American people, and especially those most impacted by this legislation, a full opportunity to weigh in.”
Kaine pipeline objections
Removing Manchin’s permitting reform bill from the must-pass government funding package was weeks in the making and followed more than 70 progressive Democrats releasing a letter that asked party leaders to keep Manchin’s bill out of the funding package that must become law before Oct. 1.
Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine earlier Tuesday rebuked the bill, saying Manchin obtaining approval for the Mountain Valley Pipeline as part of his plan “without normal administrative and judicial review” was unacceptable.
“The pipeline runs through Virginia for 100 miles and takes property from landowners, but I was not consulted as a deal was struck to approve it and thus not given an opportunity to share my constituents’ deep concerns,” Kaine said in a statement that announced he’d vote against the package.
Kaine then urged Senate leaders to pass a funding package “free of the unprecedented and dangerous MVP deal.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, also rejected the permitting reform part of the package, saying from the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon before Schumer removed the bill that it was a “poison pill.”
“What our Democratic colleagues have produced is a phony fig leaf that would actually set back the cause of real permitting reform,” McConnell said.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and 17 other Republican attorneys general sent a letter to U.S. Senate leaders Tuesday opposing Manchin’s energy permitting bill, writing the measure “contains sweeping new authority for (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) that could upend the traditional authority between the states and the federal government, and ultimately implement the Clean Power Plan by other means.”
The overall spending package, if approved by the U.S. Senate and U.S. House this week, would fund the government through Dec. 16. The measure must become law before Friday at midnight when current federal spending authority expires to avoid a funding lapse or a partial government shutdown.
That is a scenario Democratic leaders wanted to avoid, especially with just weeks to go before the November midterm elections.
New Mexico aid
The spending package, released just before midnight Monday night, would provide billions in funding to ease home heating and cooling costs for low-income households, community block disaster grants and for ongoing recovery efforts related to the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire that damaged much of New Mexico this spring.
It includes $12 billion in Ukraine aid, the third installment this year, bringing the total U.S. investment in the country’s war effort to about $66 billion.
The Biden administration requested this tranche of Ukraine assistance funding total $11.7 billion.
U.S. lawmakers also opted to include $35 million “to respond to potential nuclear and radiological incidents in Ukraine, assist Ukrainian partners with security of nuclear and radiological materials, and prevent illicit smuggling of nuclear and radiological material.”
The package does not include $22.4 billion in COVID-19 funding or $4.5 billion for the monkeypox outbreak, both of which were requested by the White House and broadly rejected by Republicans.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said Tuesday he believes leaving out that public health funding is “shortsighted.”
Leahy said he would “revisit” the issue in December when Congress is supposed to have agreement on a full-year funding package.
Avoiding a shutdown
The short-term spending bill, sometimes referred to as a continuing resolution, or CR, is needed to prevent a government shutdown when the current spending law expires at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
The stopgap is intended to give lawmakers and the Biden administration more time to reach an agreement on how much the federal government should spend during fiscal 2023, which begins Oct. 1, and where any increases in funding should be directed.
Bipartisan agreement on total discretionary spending levels, $1.512 trillion for the current fiscal year, would then allow the 12 panels in charge of an annual government spending bill to begin drafting legislation to fund dozens of departments and agencies.
President Joe Biden’s budget request for the upcoming fiscal year asked Congress to approve $795 billion for defense programs and $915 billion for nondefense programs, which includes spending on the Homeland Security, Justice and Veterans Affairs departments.
Current law provides for $782 billion for defense spending and $730 billion for nondefense funding.
If Congress and the White House cannot reach agreement on the bills before their new December deadline, they can always pass another short-term spending bill that would extend into 2023.
That type of funding strategy is, however, broadly annoying to many federal departments, including the Pentagon.
Since the short-term stopgap spending bills continue current spending levels and policies into the new fiscal year, meaning federal departments typically can’t start new programs or boost spending in areas they targeted for additional funding in the budget request.
Voting against the package Tuesday night were Republican Sens. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Mike Braun of Indiana, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Ted Cruz of Texas, Steve Daines of Montana, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Josh Hawley of Missouri, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Mike Lee of Utah, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, James Risch of Idaho, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Rick Scott of Florida, Tim Scott of South Carolina, John Thune of South Dakota, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.
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