Shutdown deadline arrives as Senate churns through votes on spending bill

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Funding for large portions of the federal government technically expired at 12:01 a.m. Saturday — but the Senate was working its way through a series of amendments to a $1.2 trillion spending bill that would fund agencies for the next six months, which means the lapse in funding could end well before sunrise, let alone before federal workers are due to come in Monday.

The bill’s passage in the upper chamber was not in doubt. The measure enjoys broad bipartisan support, but could not surmount cumbersome procedural steps ahead of the deadline. The House passed the spending bill earlier Friday, not enough time for the Senate to act without unanimous agreement of its members.

A small band of Republicans refused to give that consent until late Friday, insisting on votes on amendments that lawmakers knew they had to defeat because any changes to the bill would require approval from the House, which began a long recess earlier Friday.

Even if funding interruption lasts into Saturday or Sunday, the effects would probably be muted: Many federal workers at unfunded agencies would be off for the weekend, anyway.

“I’m opposed to shutdowns, but of the kinds of shutdowns that we could have one that is only happening on the weekend is about the best version it,” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) told The Washington Post. “Where this hurts is in defense.”

On Friday morning, the House narrowly passed the legislation, the product of a deal among President Biden, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). But negotiators took so long working out the final details of the package, and the House took so long putting it to a vote after the deal was cinched, that the Senate had scant time — by its slow standards — to pass the legislation before midnight.

Republican Sens. Ted Budd (N.C.), Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) demanded amendment votes on issues including immigration, Iran sanctions, foreign aid and cutting spending before they would agree to yield time and allow a vote to proceed.

That sparked not just policy disputes in the upper chamber, but also personal ones. Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), the top Republican appropriator, had to return to her home state Saturday morning for her mother’s funeral. Senator leadership attempted to eliminate amendment proposals, or hasten the way they were processed, as a courtesy to her so she could vote before leaving Washington.

The Senate can act fast when it has unanimous consent, so even just the 12 hours the House left the upper chamber to deal with the bill could have been enough — if all 100 members had agreed. They did not until about 15 minutes before the deadline.

“This is way past stupid,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who is close with Collins and a key interlocutor with Schumer. “This is into mean.”

The legislation would fund about three-quarters of the federal government for the next six months, while also raising military pay, eliminating U.S. funding for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees and bolstering security at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Republicans at the negotiating table with White House officials successfully turned provisions to fund the Department of Homeland Security into a broader fight about immigration policy.

The legislation would increase funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to support about 42,000 beds in detention facilities, and it would fund 22,000 Border Patrol agents. It would also cut U.S. contributions by 20 percent to nongovernmental organizations that provide services for new arrivals to the country. Lawmakers who want to restrict immigration argue that the nonprofit groups incentivize illegal crossings.

Republicans were also able to prohibit federal funding for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) for the next 12 months. Israel has accused some of the agency’s employees of involvement in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed some 1,200 people and saw hundreds more taken as hostages to the Gaza Strip by the militant group Hamas. A U.S. intelligence assessment has reportedly verified some of Israel’s claims about UNRWA.

The bill also includes a 6 percent cut to foreign aid programs, already a minuscule slice of federal spending, and a Republican change to the law that prohibits nonofficial U.S. flags from flying atop American embassies. GOP lawmakers hope to use that provision, a slightly narrower version of which had previously been in place, to prevent Biden-nominated officials from displaying Pride flags at official locations at U.S. diplomatic outposts.

Democrats eliminated other policy provisions to limit abortion access and restrict the rights of LGBTQ Americans.

Certain Democratic priorities also saw significant funding boosts, including $1 billion more for the early-education program Head Start and $1 billion for climate resilience funding at the Defense Department. The legislation also provides an additional 12,000 special immigrant visas for Afghans who assisted the U.S. military and are attempting to escape the Taliban government.

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