House passes third '15 appropriations bill

The House early Friday passed the third 2015 appropriations bill that would fund the Departments of Commerce and Justice, as well as federal science programs.

Passed in a 321-87 vote, the bill would provide $51.2 billion in funding through September 2015, a reduction of nearly $400 million below the current spending level. 

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The legislation was considered under an open rule, which allowed members to offer an unlimited number of amendments. In total, the House considered more than 80 amendments over the course of two days.

Those amendments included increasing funding for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System by $19.5 million in response to the mass shooting last week in Santa Barbara, Calif. 

Immigration entered the fray during debate of the wide-ranging measure. Late Wednesday, the House gave voice vote approval to an amendment from Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) that would boost funding for the Justice Department's Executive Office of Immigration Review, which handles immigration court proceedings. 

Earlier Thursday, the House adopted, 218-193, an amendment offered by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) that would provide $5 million for the Justice Department to investigate the Obama administration's release of illegal immigrants facing deportation who are also criminals. King said the current policy amounted to "de facto amnesty." 

Consideration of the measure further included heated debates over drug policy. Shortly before final passage, the House adopted 219-189 an amendment from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) that would prohibit the Justice Department from allowing states to implement their own medical marijuana laws. And earlier Thursday evening, the House rejected an amendment from Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), whose state has legalized marijuana, that would cut funding to the Drug Enforcement Administration by $35 million. About $2 billion is allocated for the DEA in the legislation. 

The controversy over the Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals' mishandling of wait times for medical care also made its way into the Commerce-Justice-Science bill. At nearly midnight Wednesday, the House gave voice vote approval to an amendment offered by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) that would provide the Justice Department $1 million to conduct a criminal investigation into the VA. 

The legislation includes provisions that prohibit the use of funds for transferring detainees at the Guantánamo Bay facility to the United States. Rep. Jim Moran's (D-Va.) amendment to strike that part of the bill was rebuffed, 169-230. 

The legislation would also provide $17.9 billion for NASA, which is $250 million above the current spending level. Additionally, it includes $7.4 billion for the National Science Foundation, which is $232 million more than the 2014 level.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), the retiring chairman of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee, warned that the increased science funding should only be used for "scientifically meritorious" research grants.

"With increased funding comes increased responsibility," Wolf said. "No funny grants is what I'm trying to say."

The House passed the 2015 military construction-Veterans Affairs and legislative branch appropriations bills - considered the least controversial of the 12 annual appropriations measures - earlier this month. Passing all 12 of them before the end of September, the end of the current fiscal year, will be tough, especially in an election year. 

But House Appropriations  Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) nonetheless said his panel would try to pass as many of the individual appropriations bills as possible.

"We're moving at a very fast clip on the committee that should allow us to complete our appropriations work for the 2015 fiscal year on time. And I promise my committee will do everything it can to make that a reality," Rogers said.

The Senate, meanwhile, has yet to pass any 2015 appropriations bills.

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