- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Senate on Wednesday approved the final version of a three-bill spending package lawmakers hope to get to President Trump’s desk by the end of the week, as they race against an end-of-month funding deadline to avert a government shutdown.

The Senate voted 92-5 to pass the first of several “minibus” packages Congress hopes to send to Mr. Trump, who has been itching for a shutdown showdown if lawmakers don’t give him enough money for his U.S.-Mexico border wall.

“We have a long way to go, but we’re getting there with this first batch of appropriation bills,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican.

Weather permitting, the House could send it to Mr. Trump’s desk by the end of the week. The three bills are the first of 12 needed to keep the government running.

The $147 billion package funds programs in energy, veterans affairs and military construction, and congressional operations. Lawmakers released the final version this week after House and Senate negotiators worked out differences between the chambers’ earlier versions.

A Trump administration official working on the budget said this week that Mr. Trump would approve the initial package, but didn’t offer a similar commitment on the six other bills Congress wants to send to the president’s desk by the end of the month.

Combined, those nine bills would total about 90 percent of the federal government’s discretionary budget next year. If Congress can clear them this month, it would be the first time in years lawmakers will have passed so many of the annual appropriations bills before the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1.

Lawmakers have already signaled they plan to pass stopgap funding for the final three bills, which cover spending on homeland security, commerce, justice, science, and state/foreign operations programs, which will likely kick those fights past the November elections.

Passing the annual bills now — and having the president sign them — guarantees funding through Sept. 30, 2019, lessening the leverage Mr. Trump would have if he tries to hold out for more border wall money.

The House’s homeland security funding bill includes $5 billion for the wall and border security, while the Senate’s includes $1.6 billion.

Even if Mr. Trump threatens to veto homeland security funding, much of department is made up of essential personnel like border agents who would still report to work — though they could face a delay in their pay until the new spending bill is signed into law.

The bill that passed Wednesday includes $86.5 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, $15.2 billion for the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons security programs, a $30 million boost in funding for the U.S. Capitol police and new money to pay for congressional internships.

The package also continues a pay freeze for members of Congress that began in 2009.

The next top priority for lawmakers is a two-bill package that funds the Departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and would total about two-thirds of discretionary spending for next year.

The third package would cover spending on programs in agriculture, financial services, the environment, and transportation.

With both chambers out Monday and Tuesday for Rosh Hashanah, some had expected the Senate to pass the first package on Thursday.

But with Hurricane Florence barreling toward the east coast and some members itching to get back home, senators agreed to hold votes Wednesday evening. Just prior to the vote on the spending bill, the Senate also voted 64-33 to confirm Charles P. Rettig as the next IRS Commissioner.

Negotiators working on the second and third spending packages are currently scheduled to meet on Thursday.

If lawmakers can strike a deal on one or both of them, that would clear the way for possible Senate passage next week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he plans to use floor time during the last week of September to consider the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Mr. Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court pick.

The House, which is scheduled to be out next week for Yom Kippur, could then take up whatever the Senate is able to pass when members return.

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