Senate begins overnight vote on $1.2 trillion government funding bill

WASHINGTON — The Senate began voting Friday night and into Saturday morning on a bill to keep several departments and agencies open, beating a midnight deadline to avoid a partial shutdown.

The shutdown is expected to be brief and have little impact, however, as Senate leaders announced a series of amendments and an agreement to vote on final passage of the bill. It will then go to President Joe Biden, who he said will sign into law.

The White House budget office “has halted shutdown preparations because there is high confidence that Congress will immediately pass related appropriations and the president will sign the bill on Saturday,” a White House official said. “Agencies will not be shut down and can continue their normal operations as federal funds carry out their obligations on a day-to-day basis.”

Once Biden signs the legislation, the entire government will be funded by the end of September.

The House voted Friday morning to pass a $1.2 trillion spending bill that funds departments such as State, Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security.

Following Friday's 78-18 procedural vote, the Senate indicated it had enough support to get the bill across the finish line. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced shortly before the deadline that the two parties had agreed to vote on several amendments and then accepted final passage of the bill on Saturday morning.

“It's been a very long and difficult day, but we've reached an agreement to finish the job of funding the government,” Schumer announced on the Senate floor just before midnight. It is good for the country to reach this bilateral agreement.

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A divided Congress narrowly averted several strikes this session and passed four stopgap bills extending the deadline. Almost six months into the fiscal year, negotiations on fiscal measures have been unusually slow. The latest bill was released Thursday and passed by the House Friday morning, giving the Senate little time to act.

For a while, those talks collapsed around noon on Friday, when Sen. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., argued the deal was scuttled by vulnerable Democrats in key Senate races who say they don't want to vote. Amendments used against them in their re-election campaigns.

“Democrat senators running for re-election are afraid to vote on the amendments,” Cotton told reporters, without providing evidence, adding: “Jon Tester said Sunday night to shut down the government and vote. These amendments are for you.”

But Tester, a Democrat who is in a tough re-election race in Montana, a red state that could decide the Senate majority, told NBC News, “That's bulls—.”

The back-and-forth came to a head as the two senators spoke to different reporters just feet from each other on the Senate floor.

“Did Cotton say they were keeping the amendments because of John Tester?” The tester yelled at Cotton during the exchange. “Because if he does, he's probably full of something that comes off a cow's back.”

Senators were frustrated that Congress was able to avoid repeated deficit spending this fiscal year alone, but struggled to do so in the final day of this fiscal year.

“It makes me sick,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said in an interview that after serving the items to Senate Republicans for lunch, she felt “like I ate too much sugar and bad pizza.”

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“If we had salmon, we would have thought better because we have good omega-3s,” he said. “We're just that — we're a mess of a candy pizza mess, and we're acting like teenage boys.”

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