House GOP halts spending bills after Confederate flag fight


House Republicans are hitting the brakes on consideration of spending bills after leaders yanked a measure from the floor this week over the display of the Confederate flag.

The House was originally slated to consider the 2016 spending bill for Financial Services next week, but the odds are now low for it hitting the floor.

Republicans are worried that Democrats could try to offer more amendments related to the display of the Confederate flag that could again tie the GOP into knots. 

{mosads}“We’re discussing how best to move the appropriations process forward,” a House GOP leadership aide said. 

“Congressional Democrats have been working to grind the appropriations process to a halt since it began. Our leadership has asked for a thoughtful conversation to resolve this issue. To continue to use this issue has a political weapon and reject dialogue is just wrong,” the aide added.

House GOP leaders yanked the annual spending bill for the Interior Department on Thursday after an amendment from Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) that would ban the display of the Confederate flag in national cemeteries passed by voice vote earlier in the week.

Some Republicans, primarily representing Southern states, found out about the amendment after the fact and threatened to vote against the entire bill if it remained intact.

The author of the Interior appropriations bill, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), offered an amendment under the direction of GOP leadership to undo the Huffman actions. But it was unclear if Calvert’s amendment could pass. And so on the same day the South Carolina House voted to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds, House GOP leaders pulled the Interior bill from the floor.

The House had been plowing rapidly through the annual appropriations process over the last few months, having passed six out of 12 to date. But House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers’s (R-Ky.) goal of passing all 12 individual spending bills before the August recess looks unlikely.

“It’s going to be next to impossible,” Rogers acknowledged Friday.

House Republicans have touted the use of open rules, which allow members to offer unlimited numbers of amendments, to consider appropriations bills as a demonstration of so-called “regular order.” But the use of the process is now turning against them.
Back in April, GOP leaders had to scramble after Reps. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) offered an amendment to the Military Construction-Veterans’ Affairs spending bill to eliminate the use of a Pentagon war fund to circumvent budget caps.
Huffman didn’t rule out the idea of Democrats offering more amendments regarding the Confederate flag to future appropriations bills. The Financial Services spending bill, for instance, includes funding for the General Services Administration and federal buildings.
“I wouldn’t be completely surprised. I think our whole country is taking a hard look at frankly the cover and legitimacy that we have provided to some of these symbols for too long. And I think that’s healthy,” Huffman told reporters outside the House chamber.

The House Appropriations Committee has only one remaining spending bill, for the Department of Homeland Security, to mark up out of the dozen fiscal 2016 funding measures.

Even if they get through the House, the GOP spending bills are very unlikely to become law.

Senate Democrats have promised to block all GOP funding measures until a new budget deal is reached to lift sequestration spending levels. They’ve already filibustered a bill that would fund the Pentagon next year, which included what Democrats call a “budget gimmick” to boost defense spending.

Democrats in both chambers have demanded that GOP leaders schedule a budget summit, but top Republicans have rejected the idea for now.

At this rate, Congress may have to turn to a short-term spending bill when it returns from recess in September to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month.

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