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Senate approves first 2018 spending package

The Hill logo The Hill 9/12/2018 Ian Swanson

John Thune, Mitch McConnell are posing for a picture © Provided by The Hill The Senate on Wednesday approved the first spending package for the 2019 fiscal year in its final form, pushing ahead a spending process that has been more productive than any in a decade.

The Senate overwhelmingly approved the so-called "minibus" package of three spending bills - military construction and veterans' affairs, legislative branch, and energy and water - on a bipartisan basis in a pair of 92-5 votes.

The House is expected to vote on an identical $147 billion package this week and send it to the president's desk for his signature.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) praised the vote as "another step forward on regular appropriations."

"These are national priorities with local impacts that will be felt in every one of our states. ... So we're looking forward to taking another step forward on regular appropriations and passing this conference report," he said ahead of the Senate's vote.

The two chambers finalized their agreement on the trio of bills on Monday after a contentious debate over how to fund a veteran's care program.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) had insisted on further raising the spending cap for veterans to accommodate the program, but lost out in the end. Leahy said the decision would leave the VA choice program unfunded in the future.

Congress has until the end of the month to fund the government and avoid the third shutdown of the year. The minibus is one of three packages comprising nine spending bills Congress hopes to get to President Trump's desk before the new fiscal year begins on October 1.

It plans to use a continuing resolution (CR) to keep current funding in place for the three final bills, which include funding for President Trump's controversial border wall.

Trump has threatened to shut down the government if Congress fails to allocate a sufficient level of funds toward his signature project.

"If it happens it happens. If it's about border security, I'm willing to do anything," Trump said last week about the prospects of a shutdown.

But GOP leaders expect him to hold off on any such threats until after November's midterm elections.

"I expect us to do a short-term continuing resolution for the balance of the funding and have the discussion about how to fund the wall after the election," McConnell told Fox News in an interview last week.

Asked about funding for the U.S-Mexico border wall, he added: ""We still want to get funding for the wall. ...But we think the best time to have that discussion is after the election."

Republicans are hoping to turn next week to a massive spending package that would fund the Departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, even though the House is out of town.

But Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) warned that a deal wasn't locked in yet.

Conference committee meetings to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the second and third spending bills are set for Thursday, though it is unclear when the two chambers will reach a final agreement.

"We hope to do that. If we do it, it will be a big portion," Shelby said, adding that a deal on a conference report was "imminent."

Asked about the hold ups, he joked that reporters should "guess," before adding, "we're trying to finish it up. We haven't finished it yet."

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