The Senate passed six government funding bills on March 8 to avoid an impending shutdown deadline that was poised to activate at midnight later that night.

Senators approved the funding package 75–22 early in the evening on March 8 after hours of debate. Democrats pushed for a faster vote, while Republicans proposed several amendments to the funding package that all inevitably failed.

After the House of Representatives passed its measure on March 6, only the Senate was left to pass its funding bills before they were all sent to President Joe Biden to be signed into law. In addition to the March 8 deadline, there is another looming shutdown deadline on March 22.

The bills passed by Democrats and Republicans, including a second set of bills ahead of the March 22 deadline, will get Congress one step closer to funding vital government programs for the remainder of the fiscal year.

The spending package funds programs including the departments of Veterans Affairs, Energy, Agriculture, Transportation, Commerce, Justice, Interior, military construction, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Housing and Urban Development, and other federal programs.

The package was touted by both Republicans and Democrats.

The Senate bills would also provide critical support for veteran medical care, hiring new air traffic controllers, and scientific research programs for the United States’ economic competitiveness with China.

“This is an outcome both parties can be proud of because we have found a way to put the needs of our country first,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the Senate floor on March 8.

“Today’s bipartisan agreement gives us momentum and space to finish the remaining appropriation bills by March 22. Of course, it’s going to take both sides working together to keep that momentum alive,” he added.

“To folks who worry that divided government means nothing ever gets done, this bipartisan package says otherwise.”

House Bill

House Republicans under Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) leadership passed the House funding package on March 7 with bipartisan support from Democrats. The final vote was 339–85, which included two Democrats and 83 Republicans voting in opposition to the spending bills.

That 1,050-page package of bills from the House funds the same list of departments and government programs as the Senate version.

However, it also reduces funding for several programs, which Mr. Johnson referred to as “sharp cuts to agencies and programs critical to President Biden’s agenda” in a news release on March 3.

Those include 10 percent spending reductions for the Environmental Protection Agency, a 6 percent reduction for the FBI, and a 7 percent reduction for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

The bills also include provisions intended to restrain agencies the GOP claims are weaponized against Republicans.

“This legislation forbids the Department of Justice from targeting parents exercising their right to free speech before school boards, while it blocks the Biden administration from stripping Second Amendment rights from veterans,” Mr. Johnson said on March 3.

Since many Republicans wanted to do away with funding the government via large omnibus bills, the House Freedom Caucus pushed other GOP members to oppose the package.

“The House Freedom Caucus opposes the $1.65 trillion omnibus spending bill, which will be decided in two halves, the first being brought to the floor this week under suspension of the rules,” the group said in a March 5 statement.

“Even in the face of $34 trillion in national debt, the omnibus will bust the bipartisan spending caps signed into law less than a year ago and is loaded with hundreds of pages of earmarks worth billions.”

Despite the opposition from some Republicans, the passage of these funding bills marks a rare show of bipartisanship in Congress during a contentious primary and general election season.

Senators Debate

Senators on both sides of the aisle expressed similar sentiments ahead of the vote on March 8 during a floor debate in the Senate.

“This first package is evidence that we can get things done when everyone is focused on what can actually help folks back at home and what can actually pass in a divided government,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

“This bill, I will remind everyone, received overwhelming support in the House. It won the vote of a clear majority of both Democrats and Republicans—339 votes in favor. That doesn’t happen every day,” she added.

However, some Senators were frustrated by a vote of 63–35 to initially limit debate and fast-track a vote on the funding package. Republicans worried the move would limit votes on several of their proposed amendments before Mr. Schumer approved voting on the amendments late in the afternoon on March 8.

One of those amendments, filed by Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), would have prevented counting illegal immigrants within the U.S. Census when allocating congressional seats and districts.

Republicans argue that illegal immigrants are already being added to the country’s population count and that this largely benefits Democrats already presiding over districts and states where many of the illegal immigrants end up after they come over the southern border, such as Chicago and New York City.

“I can’t believe that anybody would disagree that congressmen and women should be given to the American people, not to criminal migrants in this country,” said Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio).

“Does Laken Riley’s killer deserve a congressional representative? Well, that person gets one now, thanks to the failure of this body to even vote on Sen. Bill Hagerty’s amendment.”

Republicans Voice Concerns

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), while voicing support for the spending package, also chided Democrats for seeming poised to skip voting on the amendments.

“I don’t know why we’re having such a hard time figuring out how we deal with amendments around here. It’s just not that hard,” she said.

“I don’t think that there’s anything out there that should scare any of us about taking an amendment … But the fact that we cannot figure out how to get to a time agreement because the Democrats don’t want to entertain amendments, or they want to direct what amendments we have,” Ms. Murkowski added.

“I think we can do a little bit better.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was critical of the spending package, calling it a “pork fest of epic proportions.”

“It also is sort of the grease that eases in billions and trillions of other dollars because you get people to buy into the total package by giving them a little bit of pork for their town, a little bit of pork for their donors,” he added.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), instead, warned her Republican colleagues that delaying the vote would hurt the veterans who need their government benefits the most.

“I want to offer my colleagues a warning. If we do not act at midnight tonight, we will have a partial government shutdown,” she said.

“Do we really want a veteran who has bravely and loyally served his country and is now trying to file a claim for benefits to find that the Veterans Benefits Administration’s doors are closed to him or her? Is that what we want to have happen?”

Worry Over Government Assistance

Another concern Senate Republicans highlighted during floor debate on March 8 was about who government services are spent on.

Mr. Vance said the U.S. “social insurance system” or social welfare programs are important when Americans fall down on their luck “through no cause of their own.”

“That’s a good thing. And I think most of my colleagues, to be fair, on both sides of the aisle, agree with that,” he said.

“But here’s the problem with that. We have scarce resources, the American social welfare system—that social insurance system that ensures that down-on-their-luck kids and parents are able to access food and medicine—that thing is funded by money that doesn’t grow on trees,” Mr. Vance said.

“It’s funded by the American taxpayer.”

The Ohio senator warned that these resources would dwindle if Americans allowed the country to triple in size faster than it could adjust to the new citizens, many of whom would need the social insurance system.

“Could we possibly support the generous American social welfare system if our country had a billion people in it?” Mr. Vance asked.

“We have 300 million people now. Given our funding problems, given our budget deficit, could we possibly support a billion people, meaning three times as many people receiving Medicare, Medicaid, [and] Social Security?

“Of course, the math simply doesn’t make sense. So, at some level, we have to say these benefits were paid for by American citizens,” he added.

“These benefits ought to go to American citizens, and we should limit them to American citizens.”

Samantha Flom contributed to this report.

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