Senate advances spending bills despite Trump shutdown threat


Mitch McConnell is pictured. | Getty Images

Mitch McConnell indicated Tuesday that he is taking the president’s informal threats as an official negotiating stance. | Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

Senators passed a four-bill spending package Wednesday, forging ahead in the federal funding process even as the president threatens to wreck it all with a veto-spurred government shutdown tied to border security.

In a 92-6 vote, the Republican-led Senate signed off on a bundle that includes one quarter of the 12 annual spending bills covering a host of federal agencies. Passed was fiscal 2019 funding for the departments of Agriculture, Transportation, Interior, Treasury and HUD, as well as the EPA and IRS.

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After canceling all but one week of August recess, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced this week that leaders on both sides of the aisle aim to pass two more of the spending bills — Defense, and Labor-HHS-Education — by month’s end.

“We hope to be able to conference those bills with the House and send the president a series of conference reports covering those nine of 12 appropriation bills early after we get back from the Labor Day weekend break,” McConnell said Tuesday.

The majority leader has not said, however, what will come of the remaining three measures, which fund the departments of State, Homeland Security, Justice and Commerce, as well as foreign operations and science programs.

The House, too, has yet to pass those three bills or the measure that funds the departments of Education, HHS and Labor. The House is in recess until after Labor Day.

Because President Donald Trump fired off four vague veto threats in less than 48 hours this week, it’s unclear whether any — or all — of the spending measures would fall at the hands of the commander in chief after clearing both chambers.

Making his threats on Twitter and during unrelated events, the president has indicated only that he is willing to shut down the federal government if he isn’t satisfied with congressional action on immigration enforcement, border security and funding for his signature campaign promise: a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Most political observers assume Trump is agitating for a shutdown to occur when federal funding runs out at the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year, rather than after the Nov. 6 midterm elections, as congressional leaders would prefer. But the president has not specifically said he would force a lapse at the end of September.

Trump has not indicated, either, whether he is willing to veto bills besides the Homeland Security measure or if he would turn down a continuing resolution to keep funding at current levels for all or part of the government.

Despite those unknowns, McConnell indicated Tuesday he is taking the president’s informal threats as an official negotiating stance.

“Most Republicans, including myself, agree that we ought to fund the wall,” McConnell said. “And we’re going to try to achieve that in the course of a regular order process that’s all unfolding before you and hope we don’t get to that position at the end of the fiscal year.”

The majority leader noted that the Senate already laid out $1.6 billion in fiscal 2019 funding for the border wall, as the White House initially requested. For their part, House Republicans have approved $5 billion for the structure.

Although he kept his cool this week, McConnell has often voiced disapproval of the president’s affinity for starting political fights through Twitter. And many Senate Republicans — especially those closely involved in the spending process — were clearly exasperated as Trump repeatedly dug in with the shutdown rhetoric.

“It’s mind-boggling to me that anybody would say ‘Well, we’re going to shut down the government if I don’t get my way,’” Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told reporters Tuesday. “I would hope that … if we’re able to do our job and get the bills in a bipartisan fashion to [him] for his signature before Oct. 1, if not all most of them, a lot of them — a lot of the corpus of the appropriations process — that he would sign it and we’ll go from there.”

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