House to take up defense spending next week
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The House plans to debate its annual defense appropriations bill next week in what may spark another fight over Republicans' use of a war fund to circumvent budget limits.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyDemocrat who opposed Trump, Clinton impeachment inquiries faces big test CNN Pelosi town hall finishes third in cable news ratings race, draws 1.6M Economy adds 266K jobs in November, blowing past expectations MORE (R-Calif.) announced in a notice to lawmakers on Friday that the measure will be part of a packed schedule slated to include votes on another appropriations bill funding the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, two agriculture policy bills and the annual intelligence authorization.

The notice also said it is possible the House could consider fast-track trade legislation next week. GOP leaders and the White House are both aggressively lobbying for votes on that measure, and have argued they are getting close to a House majority.

Assuming passage of the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development spending measure, the defense legislation will be the sixth fiscal 2016 appropriations bill passed out of the House this year, out of 12 total.

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But the $578.6 billion defense appropriations bill may encounter obstacles similar to the first House appropriations measure earlier this year that stumbled out of the gate. 

Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, and Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, offered amendments to strike provisions that paid for military construction projects with the Pentagon's war fund, known as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). Using funds from the OCO account allows Republicans to circumvent spending limits established by the 2011 law that created sequestration.

Both amendments were ultimately rejected, but at one point seemed to potentially have the votes to pass and imperil the underlying bill. Van Hollen and Mulvaney indicated they would offer a similar amendment to the defense appropriations measure.

The Senate, meanwhile, appears unlikely to pass a single 2016 appropriations bill this year under so-called "regular order" because Democrats plan to prevent them from reaching the floor due to objections over the adherence to sequestration spending limits. Senate Democrats are gambling that blocking the appropriations process will force Republicans to negotiate a bipartisan budget deal.

The House began debate on the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development spending bill this week. But despite more than six hours of debate on amendments so far, the House still did not finish voting on the measure. Final passage is expected late into the evening when lawmakers return to Washington next Tuesday.

As with other appropriations bills, the defense spending measure will be considered under a freewheeling process that allows lawmakers to offer an unlimited number of amendments. That consequently will eat up hours — or even days — of floor time.

McCarthy warned that the House may be voting until 3 p.m. on Friday, considered late for the last day of the week when lawmakers leave town to return to their districts.

"Members should adjust travel plans accordingly," the memo cautioned.