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Senate passes bill to aid Ukraine and avert government shutdown

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, spoke to reporters at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday. The Senate passed a short-term spending bill on Thursday that would avert a partial government shutdown when the current fiscal year ends at midnight Friday and provide another infusion of military and economic aid to Ukraine as it seeks to repel Russia's brutal invasion.J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday approved a temporary spending package to keep the government funded past a Friday deadline and send another significant round of emergency aid to Ukraine in its war against Russia, punting negotiations on a longer-term funding measure until after the November elections.

The legislation, which would extend government funding through Dec. 16, passed 72-25. That sent it to the House, which was expected to quickly pass the measure, sending it to President Biden for his signature before funding was scheduled to lapse at midnight Friday.

In addition to continuing government spending for several weeks, the measure would provide about $12.3 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine as it fights to continue reclaiming territory from Russia.

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It sailed through the Senate with few objections, after Democrats removed an energy permitting measure by Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, who had initially insisted upon its inclusion after being promised it would receive a vote in exchange for his support last month for the party’s major climate, health, and tax package.

The proposal, which would make it easier to build solar, wind, oil, and gas infrastructure, had rankled members of both parties, and Manchin agreed to remove it Tuesday, as it threatened to derail the spending package and prompt a government shutdown at the end of the week.

“The last thing the American people need now is a pointless government shutdown,” Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat and the majority leader, said in a speech on the Senate floor before the vote. “I’m optimistic we’re on track to avoiding one well before the funding deadline.”

The tranche of aid for Ukraine comes after Congress has already approved about $54 billion in two previous packages. When it is enacted, the investment in Ukraine will be the highest amount of military aid the United States has committed to any country in a single year in nearly half a century, since the Vietnam War.

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It would provide $4.5 billion for a fund dedicated to supporting the Ukrainian government and $3 billion for weapons, equipment, and other military support. It also would provide $1.5 billion to replenish US weapons already sent to Ukraine and $2.8 billion for the Defense Department. And it would allow Biden to authorize the transfer of up to $3.7 billion of US weapons and equipment to Ukraine.

“Assisting Ukraine is not some feel-good, symbolic gesture — it’s literally an investment in our own national security and that of our allies,” Senator Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and the minority leader, said in a speech urging support for the package.

Lawmakers also agreed to address some domestic needs, including ensuring the continuation of a “user fee” agreement that supplements a significant portion of the Food and Drug Administration’s budget. It also would allow more flexibility for the federal government to spend existing disaster relief funds and provide $20 million to help address the water crisis in Jackson, Miss., and $2 billion in grant funding for rebuilding efforts after natural disasters in 2021 and 2022.

The administration’s announcement Thursday morning that it would provide more federal assistance and expand a disaster declaration for western Alaska, where a powerful storm pummeled several communities, helped resolve a last-minute objection from that state’s delegation. Alaska’s Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan had lobbied the administration for the expansion, particularly after a similar request was fulfilled for Puerto Rico.

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The measure also includes $1 billion for a program championed by Democrats to help lower-income families handle higher energy and heating costs in the coming winter.

But party leaders, confronting Republican opposition, dropped other Democratic priorities from the package, including the Biden administration’s request for billions of dollars in emergency funds to combat the coronavirus pandemic and the spread of monkeypox across the country.

Democrats have struggled to pass another round of pandemic aid money since it was abruptly dropped from a sprawling government funding package in March, as Republicans balked at the inclusion of any new federal money to address the coronavirus crisis.

“I will keep fighting for these important resources,” Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, vowed in a statement, adding that he would continue to push for an annual omnibus package. “The federal government funds programs that the American people rely on, and we should do the job they sent us here to do,” he added.

Passage of the stopgap spending bill was the final legislative deadline facing the Senate before its members scatter before the midterm elections, and senators swiftly began departing Washington after casting their votes. But the action set up a daunting to-do list for after the November balloting. Senators will have to wrangle the dozen annual spending bills — and another round of earmarked projects for their states — before several senior lawmakers, including Leahy, retire at the end of the year.

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