Senate Passes Bill to Avoid Shutdown as Lawmakers Reach Deal

  • Congress has to act before midnight on Friday to avoid closure
  • McConnell included funds for Zika, floods but not Flint water

By Steven T. Dennis, Billy House and Erik Wasson | September 28, 2016 3:22PM ET

The Senate on Wednesday passed a stopgap spending bill after lawmakers reached a bipartisan deal to keep the government funded after Sept. 30.

The 72-26 vote clears the way for House passage of the bill later Wednesday. The measure, which would fund the government through Dec. 9, also includes funding to fight the Zika virus and address flood damage in Louisiana and several other states, as well as to fund veterans’ programs through the end of the next fiscal year.

The last significant obstacle was a dispute over funding to address the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Lawmakers agreed to handle that in a separate water bill, with House lawmakers planning to vote on an amendment to that measure authorizing Flint funding on Wednesday.

“We feel comfortable here in the Senate,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said. He added that Democrats received assurances that Flint funding would be fully addressed in the lame-duck session after the November election. The two Democratic senators from Michigan agreed not to block the spending measure, H.R. 5325.

“This is an acceptable compromise,” Senator Barbara Mikulski, the chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said on the Senate floor, urging her colleagues to vote for the measure.

House leaders signaled that the chamber would act later Wednesday to send the bill to the president’s desk.

The deal should “help unlock the continuing resolution in the Senate, which now I believe will be unstuck,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday morning in remarks to the Economic Club of Washington, D.C.

Without congressional action, funding for the government would expire at 11:59 p.m. Friday.

Zika and Opioids

The stopgap measure includes $1.1 billion in funding to fight the Zika virus, $500 million in flood relief and $37 million to address the opioid abuse crisis. Republican leaders dropped House provisions on Planned Parenthood and other issues opposed by Democrats.

Reid also objected to McConnell continuing a provision in current law that prohibits the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring corporations to disclose their political spending.

“The Securities and Exchange Commission will be powerless to tell corporations that they have to disclose their campaign contributions,” Reid said. “They have to disclose everything else to their shareholders, but not that.”

But Democrats decided not to hold up action over that issue.

Drinking Water

The Flint drinking water crisis was a bigger battle. Many House Republicans say drinking water is an issue better left to states and localities to address. But the issue has taken on greater prominence with the presidential election, particularly after Republican nominee Donald Trump made a rocky visit to Flint earlier this month.

The Senate has passed a separate measure that includes $220 million for Flint and other communities affected by lead on a 95-3 vote, but McConnell omitted the funding when he introduced his own stopgap spending bill last week after bipartisan negotiations broke down.

Flint funding was also omitted from the House version of the water bill. Republican leaders on Monday night teed up more than two dozen amendments for the House floor while blocking Democrats from offering one on Flint.

Late Tuesday, the House Rules Committee reversed course, making in order an amendment that would authorize $170 million that would help Flint. That decision cleared the way for Democrats to support the stopgap spending bill. The House is expected to approve the water bill later Wednesday.

–With assistance from Henri Gendreau.