U.S. Senate votes to move forward with stopgap funding bill, after energy proposal dropped

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FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol Building is lit at sunset in Washington

By Richard Cowan, Moira Warburton and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Senate voted on Tuesday night to move forward with a stopgap funding bill that would avoid a government shutdown on Saturday, after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer cut a controversial energy-permitting provision from the critical spending bill.

The bill has several more legislative steps before it passes, but Tuesday’s 72-23 vote is an indicator it has the bipartisan support needed to become law.

The vote occurred after Schumer, a Democrat, pulled a measure from the bill that would have made significant changes to energy project permitting, at the request of its author, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who accused Republicans in a statement of “allowing politics to put the energy security of our nation at risk.”

The change, made just a half an hour before the scheduled vote, meant the bill had enough support in the Democratic-controlled Senate to go ahead with a procedural vote to begin limited debate.

That move puts it one step closer to avoiding a partial government shutdown, a potential embarrassment for Democrats just six weeks before the Nov. 8 midterm elections, when control of Congress will be at stake.

“Senate Republicans have made very clear they will block legislation to fund the government, if it includes bipartisan permitting reform, because they’ve chosen to obstruct instead of work in a bipartisan way,” Schumer said.

The bill, a continuing resolution known as a “CR” which would extend overall government funding through Dec. 16, had faced days of resistance over Manchin’s energy permitting reform measure.

Earlier on Tuesday, the chamber’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell had called on his fellow Republicans to reject the measure if it came to a vote with Manchin’s proposal to reform energy permitting, calling it a “partisan poison pill.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democratic climate hawk who also opposed the proposal, applauded the lack of permitting reform in the spending bill.

“In the midst of the horrific climate crisis that we face, the last thing we need is a side deal which would build more pipelines and fossil fuel projects that would have substantially increased carbon emissions,” he said in a statement after the vote.

The spending provisions that remain in the stopgap bill include $12.3 billion in new money to help Ukraine turn back Russia’s invasion, House of Representatives Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat, said in a statement.

This includes military and economic assistance. In addition, it authorizes President Joe Biden to direct the drawdown of up to $3.7 billion for the transfer to Ukraine of excess weapons from U.S. stocks.

Amid reports of Russian forces threatening the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and Russian President Vladimir Putin hinting he might use nuclear weapons against Ukraine, the legislation would appropriate $35 million “to prepare for and respond to potential nuclear and radiological incidents in Ukraine,” according to a bill summary.

Congress has resorted to this kind of last-minute temporary spending bill in 43 out of the past 46 years due to its failure to approve full-year appropriations in time for the Oct. 1 start of a federal fiscal year, according to a government study.

MANCHIN’S PERMITTING BILL

Manchin’s proposal would have sped up approvals of fossil fuel projects like natural gas pipelines but also for electricity transmission lines needed to bring power from wind and solar farms to cities.

“A failed vote on something as critical as comprehensive permitting reform only serves to embolden leaders like Putin who wish to see America fail,” Manchin said in a statement.

His legislation included permitting reform provisions and directs $250 million from the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act to “improve and accelerate reviews for designated projects,” including the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Manchin’s home state of West Virginia.

But lawmakers from both parties opposed it.

Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia said he had not been included in Manchin’s negotiations on legislation speeding up government consideration of Equitrans Midstream Corp’s Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), which would pass through his state.

“We should pass a continuing resolution that is free of the unprecedented and dangerous MVP deal,” Kaine said.

Some Democrats and environmentalists also had opposed, fearing it would spark more development of fossil fuel projects at a time when the effects of climate change from carbon emissions are accelerating.

While Republicans normally favor quicker government reviews of fossil fuel projects, they have been angry at Manchin since he helped Democrats pass a bill this summer addressing climate change and lowering some healthcare costs.

Still included in the stopgap bill is a five-year renewal of Food and Drug Administration user fees being collected from drug and medical device companies to review their products and determine whether they are safe and effective, the bill summary showed.

The law authorizing the collection of fees expires on Friday.

The last time Congress allowed funding to lapse was in December 2018, when Democrats balked at paying for then-President Donald Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall, leading to a record 35-day impasse and a partial government shutdown.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan and Moira Warburton; Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey, Katharine Jackson and Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Scott Malone, Mary Milliken, Sandra Maler and Chris Reese)

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