Senate Democrats block government spending bill
Senate spending talks hit another roadblock on Wednesday amid an entrenched fight over funding for President Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Senate Democrats on Wednesday blocked a bill to fund most of the federal government, marking the latest setback for spending talks with days to go until the Sept. 30 deadline to avoid a shutdown.
Senators voted 51-44 on taking up a House-passed bill that was expected to be the vehicle for any Senate funding action, depriving it of the 60 votes needed to overcome the initial hurdle.
The stalemate comes as Senate spending negotiations have been largely derailed over partisan battles on issues including the wall and concerns among Republicans that Democrats could try to muscle in abortion-related language.
Republicans tried to pressure Democrats into supporting the measure ahead of the failed vote Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Democrats of also sinking defense legislation over an immigration fight with Trump.
“We’ve seen our Democratic colleagues suggest that they may try to shoehorn their long-standing disagreements with President Trump into this appropriations process even though we all agreed not to insist on poison pills,” McConnell said.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) added with the shutdown deadline looming it was “no time for partisan politics.”
“I encourage my colleagues to move forward in that spirit today, not revert to the partisanship and chaos of past budget years,” he added.
But the government funding bill was widely expected to fail absent an eleventh hour deal to resolve the fight over Trump’s border wall.
The Senate Appropriations Committee last week passed a mammoth Pentagon funding bill and top-line spending numbers for all of its 12 appropriations bills, known as 302(b)s, along party lines — raising early questions about whether or not they could get the same bills through the full Senate.
Democrats objected to the top-line spending figures over concerns that Republicans were padding extra funding in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spending bill, legislation that has emerged as a perennial point of conflict for lawmakers tasked with funding the government.
Democratic senators also balked at supporting the defense spending bill because Republicans rejected including an amendment that would have prevented Trump from shifting funding from the military to the border wall without congressional signoff.
Democrats are fuming after the Pentagon announced earlier this month that it would move forward with shifting $3.6 billion in military construction funds to build the wall, in line with an emergency declaration Trump issued earlier this year. Democrats are expected to force a vote this month to try to nix the emergency declaration.
Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, added that without a deal on top-line spending, Democrats would not support moving the government funding legislation on the floor during Wednesday’s vote.
“We need 302(b) allocations. … They took billions out of [the Department of Health and Human Services] to put into the wall and that is problematic … and we need sequencing to know how we’re going to bring up these bills,” Durbin said.
Asked about McConnell’s plan to try to take up a spending package, he warned that “I don’t think Democrats will support.”
Wednesday’s vote marks the first time McConnell has tried to move spending bills on the Senate floor this year.
Some of the biggest obstacles still need to be worked out by senators, including the DHS bill and a fight over military construction, which is considered controversial because Republicans want to include money to replace the $3.6 billion directed toward the wall.
Lawmakers have until Oct. 1 to prevent the second government shutdown of the year after a 35-day partial shutdown ended in February.
House Democrats are wanting to move a continuing resolution (CR) this week that would fund the government through Nov. 21.
But they had to yank the bill off the Rules Committee schedule on Tuesday amid last-minute disputes including trade-related language.
A House Democratic aide said on Wednesday that the goal is still to vote on the CR this week.
“Negotiations are stuck because Republicans are refusing to agree to transparency language that would show the cost of the Trump trade war, state-by-state and commodity-by-commodity. However, given that is the final item, we remain hopeful that the CR can be filed today and voted on this week,” the aide said.
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