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US Senate advances $1.66 trillion government funding bill

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By Richard Cowan and Gram Slattery

WASHINGTON (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – A $1.66 trillion government spending bill won huge bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday as lawmakers steered it towards passage before the weekend deadline to avoid a partial closure of federal agencies.

Democratic and Republican negotiators agreed on the bill early Tuesday morning to fund the federal government through the end of its fiscal year on Sept. 30, raising funds from about $1.5 trillion in the most recent fiscal year.

The Senate voted 70 to 25 to proceed to discuss the bill, with some Republican senators hoping to offer amendments.

On Tuesday, a handful of conservative Senate Republicans said they opposed the bill but would not try to stop it from passing.

“Under no circumstances will we exceed the shutdown deadline,” said Senator Mike Lee, who joined a press conference with four allies to speak out against the measure. Fellow Republican Sen. Mike Braun said the group would ramp up its budget reform efforts next year when Republicans take control of the House of Representatives.

“We’re not going to win this war with theatrics,” Braun added.

The bill includes other measures negotiators on both sides agreed to, including banning the use of TikTok on government-owned devices and clarifying Congress’s role in certifying elections, an attempt to avoid a repeat of the 6 violence. January 2021 .

Senate and House leaders aim to pass the 4,155-page bill and send it to Democratic President Joe Biden for signature by the end of the week to ensure there is no disruption to government activities.

Tuesday’s vote was the first in a series of steps that will pave the way for approval by Friday.

Senate Republican top Mitch McConnell said most of his caucus support him: “We’re moving toward completion of business for the year. And I think highly productive from the perspective of the vast majority of Republicans in the Senate”.

Failure to pass the legislation in time could lead to a partial government shutdown starting Saturday, just before Christmas, and possibly lead to a deadlock months after Republicans take control of the House on Jan. 3, breaking the grip of Biden’s Democrats on both houses of Congress.

Budget experts have found fault with the size of the bill.

“This budget is too late and too big,” said Maya MacGuineas, chair of the Committee for an Accountable Federal Budget. She noted that much of the spending increases are to keep pace with inflation, but she said, “A lower number would help bring inflation down.”

UKRAINE, DISASTER RELIEF

Included in the bill is $44.9 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine and NATO allies and $40.6 billion to help communities in the United States recover from natural disasters and other issues.

Ukraine’s funds would be used for military training, equipment, logistics and intelligence support, as well as to resupply US equipment sent to Kiev. It also includes funding to prepare for and respond to potential nuclear and radiological accidents in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has not ruled out the use of nuclear weapons in the conflict with Ukraine.

Included in the Ukraine package is $13.4 billion in economic aid and $2.4 billion to help resettle Ukrainians in the United States.

Military aid would top a record $858 billion in US defense spending for the year, which is up from $740 billion last year and even surpasses Biden’s request.

On the nondefensive portion of the ledger, the bill’s negotiators set funding for $800 billion, an increase of $68 billion from a year earlier. This includes increased healthcare funding for poor children.

Among the most significant additions to the spending bill is the bipartisan Electoral Count Act, which reviews and clarifies the congressional certification process for presidential elections.

Democrats and many Republicans see the measure as crucial to avoiding a repeat of the chaos that occurred nearly two years ago when a mob of Donald Trump supporters attacked the Capitol in a bid to overturn Biden’s victory.

US lawmakers also included a proposal to block federal employees from using China’s short-video app TikTok on government-owned devices. And they backed a proposal to lift an impending deadline mandating a new safety standard for modern cockpit warnings for two new versions of Boeing Co.’s 737 MAX aircraft.

The omitted measures include legislation that would have provided citizenship to “Dreamer” immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children.

Supporters of criminal justice reform have largely come away empty-handed, after a compromise measure that would have drastically reduced the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine collapsed. And the cannabis industry has suffered a setback after a closely monitored measure that would have tightened banking regulations for legal marijuana companies was ruled out.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Gram Slattery in Washington; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Andy Sullivan in Washington and Jahnavi Nidumolu in Bangalore; Editing by Scott Malone, Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)