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Senate passes first government funding package to avoid shutdown

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The United States Senate has successfully passed a comprehensive six-bill package aimed at funding crucial sectors of the federal government until September, narrowly averting the specter of a partial shutdown.

The upper chamber voted 75 to 22 in favor of the legislation, effectively sending it to President Biden’s desk just ahead of a midnight deadline. Anticipating swift approval, President Biden is expected to sign the bill into law on Saturday.

Throughout the legislative process, Republican calls for amendment votes on immigration-related and other issues created hurdles, slowing down the bill’s passage and raising concerns about a potential delay into Saturday, risking a lapse in funding.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, expressed optimism prior to the vote, emphasizing the significance of bipartisan cooperation in maintaining crucial programs for various segments of society. He underscored the importance of funding initiatives for mothers, children, veterans, the environment, and housing, highlighting the bipartisan nature of the agreement and its momentum in ensuring government functions smoothly.

Having already secured approval in the House on Wednesday, predominantly with Democratic support, the funding package encountered staunch opposition from conservatives, who remained steadfast in their resistance to funding extensions lacking their preferred spending cuts and policy additions.

In an official statement released Friday night, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget confirmed the cessation of shutdown preparations, citing Congress’s successful passage of appropriations and the imminent signing of the bill by President Biden. With funding secured, federal agencies can maintain normal operations without interruption.

The comprehensive funding measure encompasses critical areas such as agriculture, energy, housing, transportation, veterans affairs, and the justice system, ensuring their operational stability until the end of the fiscal year on September 30. Congress now faces a subsequent deadline of March 22 to pass the remaining six spending bills, particularly those covering the Defense, State, and Homeland Security departments, which are expected to provoke more contentious debates.

Should lawmakers overcome these challenges, it would mark a significant resolution to a recurring spending dispute that has recurrently threatened government operations since last fall, allowing Congress to shift its focus towards approving next year’s appropriations bills. Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro, the lead Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, expressed confidence in meeting the March 22 deadline, noting ongoing progress across various legislative fronts.

While the current six-bill package includes notable cuts to agencies such as the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, celebrated by some Republicans, the House Freedom Caucus criticized it for falling short of addressing key Republican policy priorities. Nonetheless, Democrats secured important victories, including the preservation of abortion access, investments in infrastructure, veteran programs, and full funding for critical nutrition programs aimed at low-income women, infants, and children, known as WIC.

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