Senate Passes Bill to Avoid Government Shutdown

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Senate broke through a week-long stalemate Wednesday to pass a short-term government funding bill that includes money to fight against the Zika virus.
     The spending package, called a continuing resolution, funds the government through Dec. 9 and includes $1.1 billion for efforts to combat Zika without the restrictions on Planned Parenthood’s Puerto Rico arm from using the money, a provision that doomed previous versions of the Zika package.
     The continuing resolution also includes disaster relief for flood victims in Louisiana and West Virginia, as well as a military construction and veterans spending bill that died in the Senate in June after it became the vehicle for a Zika proposal Democrats staunchly opposed.
     The bill passed 72-26 Wednesday afternoon, allowing the Senate to narrowly beat the Sept. 30 deadline it faced to fund the government. The House could to take up the resolution late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
     Democrats had been holding off on supporting the continuing resolution over complaints that it did not include any money to help Flint, Mich., recover from its leaded-water crisis. Though the Senate attached Flint emergency funds to a water-infrastructure bill it passed earlier this month, it was unclear if the House would include the money in its version.
     Democrats blocked the continuing resolution from moving forward on Tuesday in protest over its silence on Flint.
     But House leadership came to the rescue Wednesday, reaching a deal to include Flint funding in the water-infrastructure bill when it comes to the floor after the November election. The commitment from the House allowed Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to support the continuing resolution before the Senate and for his caucus to fall in line behind him.
     “Is it perfect? No,” Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “Is it acceptable? Yes. Is it necessary? Absolutely.”
     Still, Michigan Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow voted against the continuing resolution Wednesday afternoon, despite the support of the vast majority of other Democrats.
     The deal might just push off a protracted budget fight for a few months, however. When Congress returns to work again, some of its members will have lost elections and the balance of power in at least one of the chambers might have swung.
     As a result, old policy fights could come back with new vigor.
     Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it is not necessary for the Flint funding in the water-infrastructure bill to move fully through Congress for the Senate to consider further spending bills when it returns from break. He did, however, emphasize there are rules for what Democrats expect when working on new funding bills.
     Schumer told reporters Democrats would need Republicans to avoid sequestration cuts, balance spending equally between defense and nondefense areas and eliminate so-called “poison pill riders” that do not have bipartisan support. Other than that, Democrats have not thought of an order in which they would like to see the spending bills move.
     “Those three rules, though, are very important to us,” Schumer told reporters Wednesday.
     Sen. Peters said he “could not support a government spending bill that will once again force the citizens of Flint to wait for the help that they so desperately need.”
     “This is simply unacceptable, that a bipartisan, fully offset Flint aid package was left out of the C.R. There is no excuse whatsoever for leaving the people of Flint behind,” Peters said on the floor after the vote.

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