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Senate races to avert government shutdown

The Senate could pass a one-week government funding patch as soon as Thursday night, following hours of wrestling over amendments.

Chamber leaders are pursuing an agreement to vote on the stopgap along with two amendments, both of which are expected to fail. The House on Wednesday night passed the measure, which averts a shutdown on Friday and extends federal cash until Dec. 23, as top lawmakers scramble to wrap up a broader $1.7 trillion year-end spending package.

The negotiators involved in that deal, however, are keeping the overall spending levels and other details under wraps so as not to endanger support for the bill given the rushed timeline.

With less than 48 hours until federal funding lapses, any one senator can hold up the one-week stopgap in exchange for concessions or amendment votes. Senate conservatives on Thursday were demanding a number of amendments, finally settling on tweaks from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that would extend the shutdown deadline into early next year and a provision from Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) that would target IRS funding.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has previously held up spending legislation in what he characterizes as a pursuit of fiscal responsibility, predicted that the stopgap would pass on Thursday night after Republicans secured amendment votes.

“I think we may finish tonight. It might be late,” he said. “But I think there’s an agreement on the amendments.”

Conservatives have also complained about the secrecy of top appropriators, who struck a bipartisan government funding framework earlier this week without revealing any details. That framework allows appropriators to spend the next few days finalizing legislative text for the deal. While much of the bill is written, it’s still a massive lift for a Congress plagued by delays.

Notably, appropriators reached an agreement Thursday to divvy up overall government funding totals across a dozen different bills, a critical step to finalizing the comprehensive spending package.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), his party’s top member on the defense spending panel, said he expected to have his legislative text ready by Sunday night. The full text of the mammoth year-end spending plan could be released on Monday or Tuesday, according to senators.

Tester also said he expects emergency funding for Ukraine aid to be around President Joe Biden’s request for $37 billion, though he did not disclosed a specific amount.

Earlier Thursday, there was a “candid” discussion at the weekly Senate GOP lunch about Republicans trying to stymie the bill, according to Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican appropriator in the upper chamber.

“We’ve got people in our caucus that legitimately vote against everything,” he said.

When asked about the lunch, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said, “The frustration that a lot of us feel that’s been pent up for a long time is, why are we always confronted with binary choices with so little information?”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer warned Thursday morning that any senators thinking about holding up the weeklong funding fix likely wouldn’t score the political points they’re seeking.

“We should have no drama, no gridlock and no delay on passing the weeklong” funding patch, Schumer said. “Those who demand something happen and risk shutting down the government almost always lose.”

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) warned that the chamber could be working right up until Christmas to pass the sprawling spending package.

“We all understand Christmas is Sunday and none of us want to be here, but all of us have a responsibility, obviously, as you complete the business of funding the government of the United States of America,” Hoyer said on the floor Thursday. “So we will be here.”

Lawmakers will also be trying to cram a number of unrelated policy provisions into the spending bill before the start of the next Congress, such as a reduction in the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses. The legislation is already expected to include Ukraine aid and legislation to update the 19th-century law known as the Electoral Count Act, which former President Donald Trump sought to exploit to remain in the White House after the 2020 election.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reiterated Thursday that he’d support the funding package, provided that it’s wrapped up by Dec. 22. He’s warned that GOP senators would leave town by Dec. 23rd.

“Welcome to Thursday afternoon in the Senate,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “It’s hard to know how this ends, you know how it is. Sometimes, miraculously, everything comes together because people want to go home.”

Anthony Adragna and David Lim contributed to this report.

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