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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Congress — which is arguably more gridlocked than ever — is actually doing a pretty decent job so far at the task that's eluded it for years: passing spending bills.

Why it matters: It might seem like a low bar, but it's better than waiting until the last minute, like Congress usually does. And passing individual spending bills, at least in theory, gives much more scrutiny to the process of deciding how federal dollars get spent than passing one giant funding bill hours before the government shuts down, as Congress is prone to do.

The big picture: This week, the Senate will begin working to pass its third "minibus" of appropriations bills, which includes funding for defense, labor and health care programs.

  • If this package passes — which it's expected to — the Senate will have passed nine of 12 appropriations bills for fiscal year 2019 so far. It's already passed the majority of spending bills by early August for the first time since 2000.
  • The House has currently passed six of 12 funding bills, although it historically has been better at getting spending bills through, as it only needs a majority.

The back story: Still not impressed? It's true that this is what Congress is supposed to do. But in reality, it hasn't completed all 12 spending bills before Oct. 1 (the beginning of the new fiscal year) since 1996, per Brookings.

Although this Congress is passing bills in small packages together, each bill is still going through the committees, which is the way it's supposed to work — rather than stitching them together and taking them straight to the House and Senate floors.

  • Some of the more controversial bills haven't even passed the Senate — which requires bipartisan votes to pass anything — in years. For example, the spending bill for labor and health care programs, which always attracts politically charged votes on abortion and the Affordable Care Act, hasn't passed the Senate on its own since 2007.
  • Between 2010 and 2017, there were six separate years when the Senate didn't pass any of its appropriations bills before Sept. 30, also per Brookings.

Yes, but: This is 2018, and things can still fall apart.

  • The two chambers still need to negotiate final versions of the spending bills they've passed so far, a process which has already been delayed.
  • And President Trump's border wall could cause a government spending showdown, as the president himself has threatened.
  • However, in a meeting with GOP leadership before recess began, Trump agreed that wall funding doesn't need to be settled before the beginning of the new fiscal year, when leaders hope to have at least half of the bills finished, according to a person familiar with the meeting.

Go deeper

32 mins ago - Health

First known U.S. case of the Omicron variant identified in California

PhotoL Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The first known U.S. case of the Omicron variant was detected in California, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Wednesday.

Driving the news: The confirmed case was detected in a traveler returning from South Africa who was fully vaccinated and has mild symptoms, according to the CDC.

Supreme Court appears likely to roll back abortion rights

Abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 1. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed likely to weaken abortion rights and perhaps to let states ban the procedure altogether.

The intrigue: The court seemed likely to throw out the framework established in Roe v. Wade, but it wasn't clear whether a majority of the justices were inclined to overturn the court's precedents entirely.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Updated 2 hours ago - Economy & Business

How to meme a painting

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

How can a physical artwork become an NFT? One new company has just spent $12.9 million on a Banksy in an attempt to try out a new way of converting the real into the virtual.

Why it matters: The art market globally sees volume of about $60 billion per year, almost all of which is trade in physical objects. Art-world insiders including former Christie's c0-chair Loïc Gouzer are on the lookout for ways to monetize physical paintings without necessarily giving up physical ownership of them.