WASHINGTON—Lawmakers reached a bipartisan deal on Thursday to keep the government open until after the midterm elections, while also passing a first tranche of spending bills and sending them to President Trump’s desk.
The House passed the package of bills, known as a “minibus,” in a 377-20 vote Thursday afternoon, a day after the Senate passed the same package. House and Senate negotiators from both parties had hammered out an agreement on the three spending bills earlier this week, which includes funding for the Energy Department, Veterans Affairs and the legislative branch of government, and their passage puts Congress on pace to avoid the deadline dramas of the past decade.
“This represents a return to our most basic responsibility around here: passing appropriation bills,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) on Thursday. “This is the first time since 2007 that the House and the Senate will send multiple appropriation measures to the president’s desk on time.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that Mr. Trump “looks forward to signing this legislation,” and he has previously pledged to put off his fight for more border-wall funding until after the November elections.
House and Senate negotiators also announced Thursday that they had reached a deal on a short-term spending bill that would fund the rest of the government through Dec. 7. The bipartisan deal, unveiled by Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R., N.J.), is designed to help Republicans avoid a fight over contentious immigration-related issues at the same time they are trying to protect their majorities in the House and Senate.
Congress is expected to pass the spending patch with a second package of spending bills later this month. The spending agreement leaves lawmakers room to pass a third cluster of full-year spending bills if a deal is reached between the House and Senate.
The second package of spending bills will fund the Department of Defense, Health and Human Services, Education and other agencies. The bill would give members of the military a 2.6% pay raise, the largest such pay raise in nine years, and help combat the opioid epidemic by providing $6.7 billion for programs that fight, treat and stop substance abuse.
To avoid a shutdown, that package must be passed before the government’s current funding expires at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 1, as the new fiscal year kicks off.
Asked about the agreements, White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said: “We look forward to reviewing the bill when it’s released.”
In recent years, Congress has missed deadlines and passed short-term extensions to bridge the lapses in spending. In the most recent budget fight, it took five of these “continuing resolutions” and two brief government shutdowns before a longer-term spending deal was reached in March 2018.
The spending deal would continue a freeze that has been in place since 2009 on the salary of members of Congress. However, it would set up a new dedicated funding stream for lawmakers to pay congressional interns, in response to criticisms that unpaid internships put them out of reach for less affluent young people. In the past, members could choose to pay interns from office funds; this bill gives each office $20,000 every year to pay interns.
The spending package didn’t resolve long-term concerns over how to pay for a newly expanded Department of Veterans Affairs health-care program. Congress in June approved a new program that allows veterans to get health care in the private sector but didn’t find new funding for it.
Democrats had pushed to increase spending above limits established in a two-year budget deal in February to accommodate the program’s new costs, but Republicans opposed to that prevailed and reduced funding across a range of programs to pay for it.
The bill boosts spending for VA health-care programs, including the new overhaul, by $1.75 billion. However, lawmakers will still have to figure out how to pay for the program in future years, when it is expected to become more expensive.
“I am extremely disappointed that House Republicans and President Trump refused to accommodate funding for the costs associated with the VA Choice program,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. “This new program will face a shortfall beginning in May of 2019. We do our veterans no favors when we make promises to them that we cannot keep.”
The bill doesn’t include funding for the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in Nevada, a key issue for Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, considered the most vulnerable Republican senator running for re-election this year.
Yucca Mountain was designated three decades ago as a final resting place for used fuel and other nuclear waste. Progress has stalled since then amid opposition by Nevada politicians like Mr. Heller, who remain concerned about such a facility’s environmental impact. But Mr. Trump has proposed restarting the licensing process for Yucca Mountain, and the House had included funding in its spending bill.
The minibus measure was supported by 202 Republicans and 175 Democrats. Of the 20 that opposed, 18 were Republicans and two were Democrats.
Heritage Action for America, the political advocacy organization of the Heritage Foundation, accused conservatives of betraying their ideals by supporting the minibus, saying the bill lacked fiscal restraint.
“While the process was arguably better this year, the results were not,” said Executive Director Tim Chapman.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Ohio) called the minibus passing two weeks ahead of the end-of-month deadline “something that should not be a momentous occasion, but is. While I don’t think our subcommittee deserves a pat on the back for simply doing our job, I do want to note that this is an achievement we have not seen in many years with our bill.”