Senate passes $1.2 trillion government funding bill, sending to Biden


The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen on March 22, 2024 in Washington, DC.

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WASHINGTON — The Senate voted 74-24 early Saturday morning to pass a sweeping $1.2 trillion government funding bill after heated last-minute negotiations caused senators to breach the midnight deadline to avert a shutdown.

But the funding lapse was brief and technical, having no meaningful impact as the White House said it has “ceased shutdown preparations” due to a Senate agreement, which came after Republicans demanded votes on a series of amendments.

The legislation, which passed the House on Friday morning by a vote of 268-134, now goes to President Joe Biden, who has said he’ll sign it into law. It completes a turbulent government funding process during the divided government, featuring a year of haggling, six months of stopgap bills and intense partisan clashes over money and policy along the way.

Once Biden signs the package into law, the full government will be funded through the end of September, after Congress passed a previous $459 billion tranche of money earlier this month. The total spending level for the fiscal year is $1.659 trillion.

“Nothing’s easy these days,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told NBC News after midnight while the Senate was voting, but said it was significant for Congress to pass all 12 appropriations bills in a year.

“Given the dysfunction of the House and slim majorities here you know, there’s something to be said for the fact that we finally got this done,” Murphy said.

The new tranche will fund the departments of State, Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, among other parts of the government that had not yet been fully funded.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said it was “typical” and “juvenile” for the Senate to wait until the 11th hour to act on the bill.

Earlier on Friday, the Senate indicated it has sufficient support to get the bill across the finish line following a 78-18 procedural vote that advanced the measure. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced just before the deadline that both parties had reached an agreement to vote on multiple amendments and then final passage of the bill early Saturday morning.

“It’s been a very long and difficult day, but we have just reached an agreement to complete the job of funding the government,” Schumer announced on the Senate floor just before midnight. “It is good for the country that we have reached this bipartisan deal.”

The divided Congress has narrowly averted multiple shutdowns this session, passing four stopgap bills that kept extending the deadline. And at nearly six months into the fiscal year, it’s unusually late in the game to be haggling over the funding measures. The latest bill was released Thursday and passed by the House on Friday morning, leaving little time for the Senate to act.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) departs the Senate Chambers on March 23, 2024 in Washington, DC.

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For a while, those talks appeared to fall apart mid-day Friday, with Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., arguing the agreement was scuttled by vulnerable Democrats in key Senate races, claiming they don’t want to have to vote on amendments that could be used against them in their re-election campaigns.

“The bottom line is Democratic senators running for re-election are scared to vote on amendments,” Cotton told reporters, adding without providing evidence: “Jon Tester has said that he would rather have the government shutdown and vote on Sunday night then vote on these amendments for you.”

But Tester, a Democrat who is in a tight re-election race in the red state of Montana that could determine the Senate majority, fired back, telling NBC News, “That’s bulls—.”

The back and forth came to a head when the two senators were talking to different groups of reporters just feet away from each other off the Senate floor.

“Did Cotton say that they’re holding amendments because of Jon Tester?” Tester yelled at Cotton during the exchange. “Because if he did, he might be full of something that comes off the back of a cow.”

Senators were frustrated by the fact that Congress was able to repeatedly avert funding lapses during this fiscal year alone, but struggled to do so on the final one of this fiscal year.

“It makes me ill,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said in an interview, adding that she felt “like I’ve had too much sugar and bad pizza” after Senate Republicans were served those items for lunch.

“If we had had salmon, we would have been thinking because it’s like we’ve all those fine omega 3s,” she said. “We’re just like — we’re a mess of a candy pizza muddle, we’re operating like teenage boys.”

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