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Senate OKs bill to fund government through September

UPDATED: Thu., May 4, 2017, 6:28 p.m.

The Capitol is seen in Washington, Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Erasing the threat of a disruptive government shutdown, the White House and top lawmakers endorsed a $1.1 trillion spending bill to carry the nation through September, an agreement underscoring that Democrats retain considerable clout in Donald Trump's turbulent presidency. (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)
The Capitol is seen in Washington, Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Erasing the threat of a disruptive government shutdown, the White House and top lawmakers endorsed a $1.1 trillion spending bill to carry the nation through September, an agreement underscoring that Democrats retain considerable clout in Donald Trump's turbulent presidency. (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)
By Kelsey Snell Washington Post

WASHINGTON – The Senate voted Thursday to approve a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the government through September, preventing a government shutdown.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign the measure, which passed 79 to 18. It includes more than $15 billion in new defense spending and $1.5 billion in money for U.S. border security, ahead of a deadline to keep the government open past Friday.

The five-month spending measure clears the way for Congress to begin talks over spending priorities for the fiscal year that begins in October. Trump has already outlined a request for GOP lawmakers to slash $54 billion from domestic programs to help pay for an equal increase in defense spending. Democrats have vowed to fight the spending cuts but some Republicans view the current spending bill as a down payment on a plan to win greater defense spending in the future.

“This bill is a solid first step toward regaining our readiness and maintaining a capable and modern military,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate. “Some of that readiness has been seriously called into question from some of our lack of prioritizing defense spending.”

Democrats have signaled that they are open to some defense spending increases, but only if Republicans agree to equal increases for domestic spending. Democrats will again have some leverage in the upcoming spending talks because their votes will be necessary to approve any spending measure in the Senate.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Thursday that he expects that Republican leaders will be willing to work with Democrats on a compromise spending bill to avoid a nasty budget fight later this year.

“The bipartisan work that brought us to this point lays the groundwork for our negotiations on the fiscal year 2018 appropriations bills,” Leahy said on the Senate floor.

The spending measure was the result of weeks of bipartisan negotiations in which Republicans ultimately backed away from Trump’s demands for money to begin constructing a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Instead, GOP leaders agreed to Democrats’ demands that the new border-security money come with strict limitations requiring the Trump administration to use it only for technology investments and to repair existing fencing and infrastructure.

The measure includes about $5 billion in new domestic spending, including $295 million to help Puerto Rico continue making payments to Medicaid, $100 million to combat opioid addiction, and increases in energy and science funding that Trump had proposed cutting.

Republicans say their greatest victory was securing the additional $15 billion in defense money from an off-budget war fund. They have also touted trims and changes to about 150 programs as a sign that they were able to secure some of their priorities in the five-month spending agreement.

“Throughout the bill, spending controls are placed on federal agencies,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said in a statement. “There are more than 150 rescissions, consolidations or program terminations within this bill. These savings have been reallocated to higher priorities.”

Among the bipartisan victories in the bill is $407 million in wildfire relief for Western states and a decision to permanently extend a program that provides health-care coverage for coal miners.

But not all lawmakers were happy with the relatively short-term spending measure. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who was one of the 18 Republicans to vote against the bill, said he was frustrated that Congress has been unable to fund the government through the regular budget process.

“We are seven months into the federal government’s fiscal year without a budget,” Daines said in a statement. “Congress has repeated this process for 42 years and it has only worked four times.”

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