House Republicans delayed a vote Wednesday night on their first spending bill of the year amid concerns that a contentious amendment to terminate the use of a Pentagon war fund for military construction projects might have the votes to pass.
The House was originally slated to vote on passage of the first fiscal 2016 appropriations bill, which provides funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction projects, late Wednesday evening. But leadership decided to push back votes on the legislation, traditionally considered the easiest of the 12 annual appropriations bills, until Thursday.
House GOP leadership aides denied any problem with the whip count. Aides said the votes were delayed so that the House could first vote on the budget conference agreement that reconciles the two chambers' spending plans before proceeding to votes on the appropriations bills.
But an amendment from Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, and Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, appeared to be a potential problem for passage of the bill. The amendment offered by the political odd couple would strike provisions of the bill that pay for military construction projects with the Pentagon's war fund.
Both Van Hollen and Mulvaney argued that using the war fund in such a way amounts to a budgetary "gimmick" to avoid spending caps established by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA).
"Let's not go around the BCA. Let's not use a slush fund or something that is off budget," Mulvaney said during floor debate. "Let's not be disingenuous."
Van Hollen warned the anti-gimmick amendment could pass. With the amendment, the Military Construction-Veterans' Affairs appropriations bill, which typically enjoys bipartisan support, could have difficulty passing.
"There is clearly bipartisan opposition to using the Overseas Contingency Operations budget as a slush fund for non-war related projects. I will continue to work with Congressman Mulvaney and my other colleagues to fight against this abuse of the budget process," Van Hollen said in a statement.
Republicans are eager to return to so-called "regular order" and pass all of the 12 appropriations bills this year — something which hasn't been done since the 1990s. But signs of potential trouble on the very first bill out of the gate could be an indicator of spending fights to come.