Senate’s initial batch of funding bills overcomes first procedural hurdle

The Senate cleared an initial batch of funding bills past their first procedural hurdle Tuesday, with little more than two weeks out until a looming deadline to prevent a shutdown. 

Senators voted 85-12 to invoke cloture on a motion to proceed to three out of 12 annual government funding bills, a relatively small step but one that marked the first test for what’s being called a minibus across the finish line.

The legislative package proposes billions of dollars in funding for a slew of agencies, including the departments of Veterans Affairs (VA); Transportation (USDOT); and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), as well as the Food and Drug Administration.

The largest bill, which covers funding for military construction and the VA, offers more than $120 billion for VA medical care for the coming fiscal year. Appropriators have also lauded its historic boosts to military construction and family housing projects.

The package also sets aside nearly $100 in funding for the USDOT, HUD and related agencies, with some increases for the Federal Aviation Administration, Maritime Administration, homeless assistance grants and Section 8 vouchers. 

Each of the bills passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in committee, with members on both sides cheering what they tout as a return to “regular order” after the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up and approved all 12 funding bills this year. 

The feat marked the first time in five years that the committee reported all of the bills out of committee. 

“I think one of the demands from Senate conservatives the last time we passed an omnibus was to not do it that way,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), whose appropriations subcommittee oversees funding for housing and transportation, told The Hill on Tuesday. “And so we took that seriously. But it’s easier said than done.”

“We have a long way to go, but this is the closest we’ve come to regular order since I’ve been here,” said Schatz, who has served in the Senate since 2012. 

Both chambers are on a tight timeline to make progress on their 12 annual funding bills as a Sept. 30 shutdown deadline inches closer.

Leaders on both sides are hoping for a deal on a short-term funding patch, also known as a continuing resolution, that would keep funding at current levels to buy time for spending talks. But doubts are rising that Congress will make the cutoff date as partisan spending battles intensifies in Washington.

Tags Brian Schatz