- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2018

The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a massive $857 billion bill that funds the Departments of Defense, Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services next year, pressing to avert a shutdown showdown ahead of the next funding deadline at the end of September.

The bill passed 85-7, after Senate leaders packaged the two largest of the dozen annual funding bills, hoping to win support from Republicans eager to fund the military and from Democrats keen on domestic social programs.

“These bills will make America stronger — overseas and right here at home,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The Senate has now passed nine of the 12 spending bills for 2019, and the House has passed six. Differences between the House- and Senate-passed bills will have to be worked out by negotiators in both chambers once the House returns from its August break after Labor Day.

Current-year funding is slated to run out at the end of September and lawmakers are trying to avoid another massive $1.3 trillion “omnibus” spending bill after President Trump said in March he wouldn’t sign a repeat of fiscal year 2018 funding, which saw him having to accept a big domestic spending boost in order to win a defense surge.

The bill that passed Thursday, covering fiscal year 2019, provides about $607 billon in base discretionary spending for the Defense Department, plus $68 billion for a special war fund that’s not subject to strict spending caps.

The bill also provides $39.1 billion to the National Institutes of Health, a $2 billion boost from the current year, and provides $3.7 billion to combat the opioid epidemic — an increase of about $145 million.

Before final passage Thursday, the Senate rejected an amendment from Sen. Rand Paul that aimed to zero out federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Mr. Paul chided fellow Republicans for holding up a quick vote on his amendment.

“The truth is that Republican leadership favors bloated government spending more than they care about Planned Parenthood,” the Kentucky Republican said.

The Trump administration has cheered some parts of the bill, including money allowing for a 2.6 percent pay increase for U.S. troops and funds for anti-opioid programs and charter schools.

But in a statement of administration policy, the Office of Management and Budget said the non-defense parts of the bill came in at $11.8 billion above the administration’s request — the product of a two-year deal struck earlier this year to lift discretionary spending caps for both defense and non-defense spending by about $150 billion next year.

The White House also said it “strongly objects” to money in the bill to provide a second Littoral Combat Ship for the Navy, saying the additional one isn’t necessary, and that it objects to reductions in spending for overseas fighting in Afghanistan and for combating the Islamic State terrorist group.

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