Helicopter flying by Washington Monument
The U.S. Senate has passed a major appropriations bill by a vote of 85-7 that includes defense as well as health and human services, education and labor before the end of August for the first time in two decades.
Senators moved Thursday to put H.R. 6157, the fiscal year 2019 appropriations “minibus” bill, to a vote, in the hopes of moving the bill – which includes $675 billion for defense – along to conference after Labor Day and ultimately passed before Sept. 30.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said the prospect of getting the minibus bill and the farm bill passed before the end of the fiscal year would “give an example to the public.”
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said ahead of the vote that the last year that the Senate succeeded in passing nine appropriations bills before the end of August was 1999.
“This is a milestone here today,” he said, adding, “I think it shows what the Senate can do, working together.”
The bill is the third minibus appropriations bill this fiscal year, and includes the eighth and ninth FY'19 funding measures to be processed by the full Senate, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
An amendment submitted by Shelby on behalf of himself and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) was included in the final version of the bill, which allowed for funds to be used for multi-year procurement contracts for the Navy’s forthcoming SSN Virginia-Class nuclear attack submarines.
An amendment submitted by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) to include up to $4 million in operations and maintenance funds was also included to stand up a multi-agency Cyberspace Solarium Commission that would include lawmakers and members of the intelligence community, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Defense (DoD).
Lawmakers expressed cautious optimism at the prospect of funding defense obligations ahead of deadline for the first time in decades. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) told reporters before the vote that if the Senate succeeds in passing the defense appropriations bill this week, it would have succeeded in making “major change that hasn’t been made in the last 20 years.”
“We now have the votes to get it done, and so let’s get that done and then worry about other appropriations around it,” he added.
He added that he was “so confident” that a continuing resolution would not come to pass this year, “because of the trauma that would bring.”
“Historically if it gets dragged out – and it has happened in years past – if you ever get up to December, then … it’s a real crisis,” he said.
Shelby told reporters the goal is to move to conference “as soon as we can.”
“But we need the House to get back here,” he added.
Should the health and human services, education or labor bills be caught up in conference, it’s possible that the Senate could opt to conference the defense appropriations bill separately, Shelby said.
“I’m sure we could, but I would hope we wouldn’t,” he noted. “We can conference single bills or multiple bills, but hopefully we keep them together for a lot of reasons” such as efficiency of the process.
If passed, the bill would not include dozens of amendments that were previously introduced, among them several that would have affected procurement funds across the Defense Department. But versions of those efforts could still be introduced in conference.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) had previously attempted to slip in an amendment that would have curbed U.S. support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen in the wake of a Saudi-directed airstrike on a school bus. His attempt was blocked, but Murphy said Thursday that more opposition to the coalition and to supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia in this coalition could be expected.
“We have obligations when we sell weapons systems to countries to make sure that they’re used in accordance with U.S. law, and we’re not doing that in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “We have no independent means of assessing whether they are targeting civilians, and I would argue that that is a violation of U.S. law.”
Expect to see “a lot of opposition” to the next proposed round of precision-guided munitions sales to the Gulf country, he added. “We’ve got close to 50 votes in the past, but I think we might break the 50-vote mark on the next sale that comes from the Senate.”
“There is a developing sense on both sides of the aisle that this campaign is not in the U.S. national security interest,” he added. “At some point, there is going to be a moment when Congress says, enough is enough.”