Senate passes bill to avoid government shutdown

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(CNN) — The Senate cleared a bill Wednesday to fund the government and the federal response to Zika, avoiding a potentially embarrassing government shutdown just weeks before the election.

The measure — which funds the federal government through December 9 — was passed two days before federal agencies were set to run out of money and will be sent to the House, where final passage is expected later Wednesday.

After weeks of negotiation and stalemate, the bill ended up getting broad support, passing 72-26, after both parties agreed to approve $220 million for Flint, Michigan, to respond to the lead poisoning in its water supply.

Senators up for re-election can now return home to campaign.

The bill included $1.1 billion for Zika, $500 million for flooding in Louisiana and other states, and $37 million for opioid addiction.

ORIGINAL STORY: Congressional leaders are closing in on a major deal to keep the government open until December, hoping to push through a long-awaited package that would also combat the outbreak of the Zika virus while providing aid to help deal with the tainted water supply in Flint, Michigan.

The tentative deal comes as lawmakers are racing to wrap up their work before heading home to campaign all next month ahead of November’s elections. If approved, the package would resolve a months-long partisan standoff over Zika and Flint funding that had become a political headache for the GOP leadership.

Each party’s leadership needs to sell the strategy to their rank-and-file, and it’s unclear if restless liberals and conservatives will accept it.

Under the outline of the deal, reached Tuesday night by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Speaker Paul Ryan, the leadership agreed to add aid for Flint on a separate water projects bill, setting up a Wednesday vote on that package. A House-Senate conference committee would later reconcile the two competing bills, setting the stage for final approval of the Flint aid in December.

Separately, as early as Wednesday, the Senate will move a funding bill to keep the government afloat until December 9, a package that includes $500 million for the recent Louisiana flooding, $1.1 billion to combat Zika and $37 million to fight the opioid epidemic. Senate Democrats had blocked the funding package, saying they needed commitments that aid for Flint would also be approved this Congress.

Speaking at the Washington Economic Forum on Wednesday morning, Ryan said he believes that moving the Flint aid on the water bill “will help unlock” the funding package, asserting that the Flint issue “now, I think, will be unstuck.”

House conservatives, who view the Flint aid as a bailout, are unlikely to be pleased.

Both chambers will need to act quickly because the deadline to fund federal agencies is Friday at midnight. Ryan said Wednesday there won’t be a shutdown because GOP members understand the process behind backing a short-term bill.

“Basically, we are having a low-drama moment now,” Ryan said.

On the Senate floor Wednesday morning, Minority Leader Harry Reid said the movement in the House is a “step in the right direction.” But he warned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell not to back off commitments to approve money for Flint.

“Why can’t they just say they’ll do it?” Reid said. “We’ll continue to exercise caution moving forward, but I’m glad to see progress has been made.”

Reid said on the floor of the Senate he has been given assurances by Republicans that Flint funding will get done in the lame duck session, the period after the elections.

“I am convinced there is going to be help for Flint in the lame duck,” he said, adding this should clear the way for government funding to pass probably Wednesday in the Senate and then the House.

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