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Senate passes key government funding bills hours ahead of shutdown deadline

The Senate passed a package of six government funding bills Friday evening just hours ahead of a shutdown deadline after lawmakers raced the clock to get the measure across the finish line.

The legislation now advances to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

Biden is expected to sign the package into law on Saturday, and the Office of Management and Budget ceased shutdown preparations Friday because Congress had approved the bill, the White House said, according to the pool.

“Because obligations of federal funds are incurred and tracked on a daily basis, and the President will sign the bill tomorrow, agencies will not shut down and may continue their normal operations tomorrow,” the White House said in a statement.

The Senate voted 75-22 Friday evening to pass the measure, after the House approved the legislation on Wednesday.

The spending bills – backed by the top Democrats and Republicans in both chambers – represent a major breakthrough for lawmakers after months of averting shutdowns at the eleventh hour with stopgap bills. Congress has now finally passed updated legislation to fund critical government departments and agencies through the rest of the fiscal year.

But the work isn’t over yet: Lawmakers still need to finalize and pass a second slate of funding bills ahead of a March 22 deadline.

Democrats and Republicans have both claimed wins in the spending package, which includes funding for the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Veterans Affairs, Energy, Interior, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development as well as the Food and Drug Administration, military construction and other federal programs.

The package will support a wide array of programs and initiatives, including hiring new air traffic controllers and rail safety inspectors; medical care and benefits for veterans; and science, technology and research programs aimed at bolstering US economic competitiveness and competition specifically with China in fields including artificial intelligence.

House Republicans, who have an extremely narrow majority, passed the package on a bipartisan basis on Wednesday. The vote was 339 to 85, with 132 Republicans voting in favor and 83 Republicans opposed. Two Democrats voted in opposition.

Democrats have highlighted that the package funds key social safety net programs, including providing $7 billion for the WIC program, which delivers nutrition assistance for women, infants and children, a $1 billion increase from the prior fiscal year. The package also includes funding for rental assistance and other child nutrition programs, including the school lunch program.

Republicans, meanwhile, have touted some spending cuts in the legislation as well as conservative policy riders.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, who has faced criticism from his right flank over his handling of the government spending fight, said in a statement, “This legislation forbids the Department of Justice from targeting parents exercising their right to free speech before school boards, while it blocks the Biden Administration from stripping Second Amendment rights from veterans. It imposes deep cuts to the EPA, ATF and FBI, which under the Biden Administration have threatened our freedoms and our economy, while it fully funds veterans’ health care.”

In a sign of opposition from conservatives, the hardline House Freedom Caucus took an official position against the spending package, saying in a statement that it “punts on nearly every single Republican policy priority” and “surrenders Republicans’ leverage to force radical Democrats to the table to truly secure the southern border.”

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.

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