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Nine spending bills down, three to go in House of Representatives



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The U.S. Capitol Building at dusk on Jan. 20, 2018, in Washington, D.C. According to a government report released Tuesday, the nation's federal debt is on pace to reach unsustainable levels within 30 years. Tribune News Service Buy Photos

WASHINGTON — The House passed its second batch of fiscal 2020 spending measures Tuesday in a $322 billion package that would block Trump administration policies on offshore drilling, a health care court challenge, the 2020 census and more.

On a mostly party-line vote of 227-194, the House passed the Democrat-written measure that combines five of the 12 annual bills needed for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Those are the Commerce-Justice-Science bill, which is the underlying vehicle, along with the Military Construction-VA, Agriculture, Transportation-HUD and the Interior-Environment bills. The package also would provide compensation to lower-income federal contractors who didn’t get paid during the 35-day partial government shutdown that ended in January, at an added cost of $1 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. 

No Republicans voted for the five-bill package, while one Democrat —  Ben McAdams of Utah —  voted against it. McAdams is a top GOP target in 2020, having defeated former Republican Rep. Mia Love by just 694 votes in last year’s midterms.

Tuesday’s vote, combined with last week’s passage of a $985 billion four-bill package, means the House has now completed work on about 94% of the $1.295 trillion in total discretionary spending it has agreed to provide for the coming fiscal year. But all of those measures will require a rewrite before they become law. Not a single House Republican has voted for either of the big packages the chamber has passed, and the White House opposes them as well.

Even before Tuesday’s vote, the administration had already threatened to veto the five-bill package, which it said spends too much money and contains troublesome policy riders. The package would spend 8.7% more than President Donald Trump requested, amounting to an increase of $25.7 billion, according to a Statement of Administration Policy. It also objected to provisions that would block military funding from being used for a wall along the southern border and preclude a citizenship question on the census.

The package also assumes a higher level of discretionary spending than allowed under a 2011 deficit reduction law that imposed strict limits through fiscal 2021 to curb federal red ink.

Without a new bipartisan deal to raise those limits, the House-passed package would trigger across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration at the end of this year. Total discretionary spending would have to be cut by about 10 percent, or $125 billion, from this year’s enacted level. The GOP-led Senate Appropriations Committee hasn’t yet begun its fiscal 2020 markups or even parceled out funding among the 12 subcommittees because of the uncertainty over spending caps. Congressional leaders and top White House officials have huddled several times to try to resolve their differences but haven’t found common ground yet.

House passage of the spending package came after several days and late nights plowing through scores of amendments. The Democrat majority used the amendment process to rein in or overturn several Trump administration policies they oppose.

On a vote of 238-104, the House adopted an amendment to stop the Justice Department from using funds to argue in court that the Obama administration’s health care law is unconstitutional or invalid.

By a margin of 192-240, the House rejected a Republican amendment that sought to allow a question about citizenship in the census. The administration says the question is needed to help enforce the Voting Rights Act, while Democrats say it would discourage participation in the census and lead to an inaccurate count of the population.

On a vote of 267-165, the House adopted an amendment that would block the federal enforcement of marijuana laws in states that allow the drug.

The House adopted several amendments aimed at blocking the administration from conducting lease sales for oil and gas exploration in parts of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

By a vote of 192-240, the House rejected a Republican amendment that would have prohibited the EPA from enforcing the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which aimed to cut carbon emissions. But the EPA last week finalized a more lenient replacement, which they’ve dubbed the Affordable Clean Energy rule, which sets no limits on power plant emissions and seeks to prop up the struggling coal industry.

Next on tap for the House is passage of its $24.5 billion Financial Services bill, which funds the Treasury and related agencies. The White House has threatened to veto that measure as well, citing restrictions on transfers of Treasury funds to the border wall project; language blocking the administration’s proposed merger of the Office of Personnel Management and General Services Administration; and a prohibition on redefining federal poverty thresholds which could impact some means-tested benefit programs, among other concerns.

House leaders had been considering a vote this week on the $3.97 billion Legislative Branch bill, which funds the operations of Congress and related agencies. But House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said the chamber wouldn’t vote on that measure before the July Fourth recess due to lingering concerns over increasing lawmaker pay for the first time in a decade. The Legislative Branch bill has become a political hot potato this year after vulnerable House Democrats expressed concerns the measure would allow for the first congressional pay raise in a decade. The bill omits language that has been included in recent years to block any cost-of-living increase for members of Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said the Senate will oppose a pay raise.

By David Lerman

CQ-Roll Call

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