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Senate passes stopgap spending bill, sending to Biden with time to spare

The Senate is sending a stopgap spending bill to the president’s desk, averting a government shutdown with days to spare.

The bill, which cleared the House Tuesday, passed in the Senate Wednesday night by a 87-11 vote. The vote was stalled for hours Wednesday evening over negotiations on defense policy legislation still on Congress’ to do list this year.

The stopgap bill uses a two-tiered deadline structure pioneered by Speaker Mike Johnson, which will keep part of the government open until Jan. 19, while funding for the military and some of the government’s biggest domestic programs will last through Feb. 2.

The idea is to stagger funding deadlines, which Congress notoriously struggles to meet, so lawmakers aren’t stuck with a massive 12-bill government funding bundle.

“I have good news for the American people: This Friday night there will be no government shutdown,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a floor speech shortly before passage.

Many senators originally scratched their heads over the “laddered” concept — but the measure eventually got the necessary support. Democrats, in particular, were pleased that Johnson didn’t pursue any funding cuts, and that he left defense in the second tranche of bills with the February deadline.

Some Republicans, though, still weren’t enthused about the length of the continuing resolution.

“I liked the Christmas date the best,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). “But obviously this sounds like it’s congealing. So we’ll just live with it.”

The Senate has only passed three of its own 12 appropriations bills, which lawmakers did via one package, known as a so-called minibus. Senate appropriators are largely expecting to pursue more minibuses for the remaining nine bills, while they look to launch talks on a broader government funding agreement with House Republicans. Those conversations are sure to consume Congress in January.

Senate Appropriations ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she’s looking at bundling four appropriations bills together in the next package, including Labor-Health and Human Services, Defense, Energy-Water and Commerce-Justice-Science.

While the last minibus took nearly two months to pass, Collins hopes this one won’t be such a hassle.

“There was a lot of pent up demand for amendments on the first package and that’s why it took so long,” Collins said. “Now, I hope we can move more quickly. We’ve essentially lost two-and-a-half weeks.”

The House already canceled the remainder of their scheduled votes this week amid a conservative rebellion. But when lawmakers come back to town after Thanksgiving break, they’ll have to start thinking of conferencing spending bills if they have any hope of avoiding the January and February deadlines.

House conservatives are once again fuming after Johnson’s stopgap passed the lower chamber on Tuesday with mostly Democratic help. They’re now refusing to pass any more GOP spending bills until Johnson produces a plan to cut government funding for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1.

Senate Democrats — and many Republicans — will not accept more slashing, preferring to stick to the debt deal struck between the White House and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy earlier this year.

Somehow, both sides will have to square their differences across a dozen spending bills in the new year. And Johnson is vowing to do no more stopgaps, meaning January and February could be hard deadlines to bridge the spending divide between both chambers.

Asked if she’s optimistic about passing the next tranche of bills, in the Senate at least, Collins simply replied: “We have to.”

“We’ve got to pass the rest of the bills in order” to start talking seriously with House Republicans, she said. “The topline is important, but if we don’t pass bills, then what are we going to be conferencing?”

Jennifer Scholtes contributed to this report.

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