Five policy fights that threaten government funding

Five policy fights that threaten government funding
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Spending bills crafted by Republican lawmakers include several policy provisions that could lead to a standoff with the Obama administration later this year.

While the fight over whether to bust spending limits will dominate this year’s government-funding debate, both sides are also digging in on other thorny issues that will be difficult to resolve.

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Here are the five fights that could cause the biggest problems as Congress seeks to approve 12 spending bills.

Obama’s opening to Cuba

The House GOP’s transportation spending bill seeks to torpedo President Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba by including language limiting travel to the island.

One section would block funding for any U.S. flights if they land on or pass through property confiscated by the Cuban government. Another provision would block funding for the licensing of vessels, such as cruise ships, that also dock near property confiscated by the Cuban government.

Another House GOP bill funding the Justice and Commerce Departments and science agencies would limit the export of U.S. goods to Cuba.

“The administration strongly objects to the provision that would restrict travel to Cuba, and places unnecessary restrictions on options for educational, religious, or other permitted travel to Cuba,” White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun DonovanShaun DonovanHouse Dems call on OMB to analyze Senate budget plan Overnight Finance: Dems turn up heat on Wells Fargo | New rules for prepaid cards | Justices dig into insider trading law GOP reps warn Obama against quickly finalizing tax rules MORE warned in a letter to appropriators.

The VA’s medical marijuana ban

Before the Memorial Day recess, the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment into a bill funding military construction projects and the Department of Veterans Affairs that would allow doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend the use of medical marijuana for treatment.

The rider, offered by a Democrat and Republican, was wrapped in after a surprising 18-12 vote.

In April, House Democrats attempted to add similar language, but were blocked by Republicans.

“Let’s go ahead and do the research to see whether medical marijuana or components of marijuana treat disease,” said Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who has also opposed the District of Columbia’s steps to legalize marijuana.

“We don’t do it justice by saying it’s a cure-all for PTSD or it’s a cure-all for pain. The medical literature is quite clear,” said Harris. “There are very few indications where it’s been robustly demonstrated to treat a medical problem.”

A 2011 directive by the Veterans Health Administration prohibits agency doctors from consulting patients about medical marijuana use.

“It’s an enormous inconvenience to our veterans,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who explained that current law forces veterans to seek a medical appointment outside of the VA.

The proposal could still be too controversial for House Republicans who might get their way and strip out the provision during negotiations later this year.

The EPA’s new water regulation

Congressional Republicans hope to use the power of the purse to stop the new water regulation the Obama administration announced this week.

The “water of the United States,” or WOTUS rule, redefines which streams, ditches, wetlands and other bodies of water are protected under the Clean Water Act. Republicans have panned it as a massive land grab.

House Republicans included a provision restricting funding for the rule in an energy and water bill already passed by the lower chamber.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) tried to add a similar provision to the upper chamber’s bill, but Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) warned it could kill the bill in committee.

Hoeven withdrew his proposal, but promised to offer it at another time.

The Pentagon’s war fund

Most of the issues over spending focus on individual policy riders, but another fight is expected to continue over the Pentagon’s war funding account.

In order to boost funding to the military while keeping the existing ceilings on spending, Republicans want to pump up a fund the Pentagon normally uses for overseas wars.

A number of lawmakers from both parties have described the maneuver as a “gimmick.”

If Congress strikes a new budget deal, however, to raise spending ceilings, Republicans won’t have to rely on the war fund.

But in the meantime, relying on the war fund has already caused headaches for Republicans and could cause more.

Relaxation of gun restrictions

House Republicans have tucked some riders into their spending bills that would relax gun restrictions and would impede efforts to combat illegal gun trafficking.

One bill, for example, would prevent the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from curtailing the importation of certain firearms or ammunition.

The measure would also prohibit funding to enforce reporting requirements on multiple sales of long guns.

The energy and water bill that already passed the House also contains a provision that would allow a person to possess a firearm, under certain circumstances, at a water resources development project site.

Before the bill passed, Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) said the provision would create a “national security threat.”

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) warned her colleagues to focus on the funding levels and not let the appropriations process get “bogged down” by controversial riders.