Senate clinches deal to advance $1.7T government funding bill

“We have an agreement now … It’s taken a while but it is worth it, and I appreciate the cooperation of everyone here,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said announcing the deal from the floor.

The deal puts Congress on a glide path to pass the spending package, which gives the Pentagon a 10 percent budget boost, includes about $45 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine and provides nearly $40 billion for disaster aid. The legislation is the final item on Congress’ to-do list before it leaves for the year, with members eager to get out of town as a winter storm threatens to lock down half the country.

House members have been warned to expect a late night of voting in order to quickly send the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk, allowing them to join senators in leaving town for the holidays.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told members in a private meeting Thursday morning that he would aim to get everyone out by that evening, according to multiple people familiar with his remarks — though he warned that it could be late, unlikely to be in time for evening flights. A big factor in the House’s timing is the protocol for transmitting any Senate-passed bill to the other chamber.

Hoyer told Democrats “it looks like we might be done tonight, but not in time probably to catch flights, especially because of all the weather delays,” said Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas.). “So it sounds like a late night.”

The main hangup impeding a Senate agreement to vote on the sprawling bill centered on an amendment from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that aims to tie Department of Homeland Security funding to the preservation of Title 42, or Trump-era border restrictions related to the pandemic.

Lee had demanded a lower majority-vote threshold on his amendment, hoping to sway some Democrats who support the Title 42 policy. If even one Democratic senator joined with all 50 Republicans to add the proposal to the bill, it would have tanked the broader spending agreement, generating pushback from House progressives.

Instead, Democrats who support Title 42 can now avoid that politically difficult vote. The competing proposal from Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) would maintain Title 42, but increase funding for immigration courts and other border-related issues. At a 60-vote threshold, it is expected to fail, eliminating a major headache for House Democratic leaders.

“This year’s historic levels of border crossings at our southern border make clear the status quo is not working. Our amendment boosts funding for border security, increases resources for border communities, and extends Title 42 until a proper plan to manage the crisis at our border is in place,” Sinema said.

Beyond the border standoff, the Senate will vote on roughly a dozen other amendments, including one from conservative Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) that would strip funding for earmarks in the bill, three proposals related to expanding protections for pregnant workers, and a bipartisan pitch from Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on 9/11 families.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) are also getting a vote on their proposal to enable funds from the sale of seized Russian oligarch assets to be used as foreign assistance to Ukraine, in a bid to help the country “recover from the harms caused by the ongoing Russian aggression.”

Other changes could make it into the bill fairly easily, including another tweak from Lee that would extend pay and benefits to a Navy lieutenant currently jailed in Japan.

Another proposal from Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) would attach the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to the year-end spending bill. That measure, which would require employers to provide pregnant workers with accommodations like bathroom breaks, has stalled in the upper chamber over GOP concerns about religious liberty exemptions.

As part of the deal, the Senate will also vote on tweaks to address those religious freedom concerns.

“I think it will pass,” Cassidy said on Wednesday, who expected broad support from Democrats. “We’ve got a policy that threads the needle and does something really good for someone who’s eight months pregnant and needs extra bathroom breaks.”

Sarah Ferris and Nicholas Wu contributed.