Senate Republicans on Wednesday defeated an attempt to allocate $250 million to states for “election security,” turning back what Democrats said would have been the first steps to combat foreign meddling in the looming midterm elections.
The amendment failed on a 50-47 vote, as part of a broader debate on a $154.2 billion spending package that covers programs for agriculture, the environment, financial services and transportation. The amendment needed 60 votes to pass.
Later in the day, the broader bill passed easily on a 92-6 vote, as leaders hailed the progress they’re making on the 2019 spending bills ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline. The Senate has now passed seven of the 12 individual funding bills for 2019, and the House has passed six.
“I hope my colleagues are encouraged by what’s happening here, by what we are accomplishing together,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican. “Moving these bills in this way is the right thing to do — not only for this institution, but for our country; for the American people.”
But the bigger fight was over the election-security funding, which Democrats said are necessary to defend the country against encroaching interference in the 2018 elections at the hands of outside actors like Russia.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who pushed the amendment, said the passage of the broader bill is a positive step but lamented the defeat of the election security measure.
“This duty has fallen to us, and we must not later be found to have been asleep at the switch, with so much at stake,” said Mr. Leahy, the vice chairman of the appropriations committee.
But Republicans said there is already plenty of money for election security — Congress included $380 million in state grants in a bill for 2018.
“The $380 million that the Congress provided last year for election security money to be used over the next five years is not all out the door yet, certainly hasn’t been spent yet,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican.
Mr. Blunt, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, also said this week that his panel will soon take up separate legislation tied to election security.
House Democrats attempted to attach a similar amendment to one of that chamber’s 2019 spending bills but were also rebuffed by Republicans there.
The broader Senate funding package includes $23.2 billion in discretionary spending for agriculture programs, including $5.4 billion for the Food and Drug Administration.
It includes $35.9 billion for interior and environmental programs, including $13.1 billion for the Department of the Interior and $8.1 billion for the EPA — about the same levels as current-year funding.
The package also includes $23.7 billion for financial services and general government programs, including $11.3 billion to fund the IRS.
The bill includes $71.4 billion for transportation, housing and urban development programs, including infrastructure grants, and $150 million for capital and preventative maintenance costs for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).
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