House passes $1.2T government funding package for 2018

Greg Nash

The House on Thursday completed its work on the annual appropriations bills for 2018, ahead of expected negotiations at the end of this year to keep the government funded. 

By a vote of 211-198, the House passed a $1.2 trillion package of spending bills to fund wide swaths of the federal government, ranging from the Department of Homeland Security to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

“This is a big day,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said, touting the House’s use of regular order to pass the 12 bills. 

“This is the first time the House has done that since 2009,” he said. 

The package included eight new bills, plus four previously passed appropriations bills that advanced through the House in July. Regular order for appropriations typically involved passing each of the bills individually, not in groups of 4 or 8.

Congress sent a three-month government funding extension to President Trump’s desk last week to avoid a government shutdown on Oct. 1. That means Congress will have to finalize government spending for 2018 in December.

“This is the next step in the process, but it is not the end. Funding these important federal responsibilities and keeping the government open is our constitutional duty to the people we serve, and I look forward to the final completion of all these critical bills,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.).

The passage of all 12 of the annual appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year is a first for Republicans who have not been able to move them all in the same time frame in recent years. 

Together, the bills appropriate $621.5 billion for defense spending and $511 billion for nondefense discretionary spending. It also devotes another $87 billion in Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) funding, which does not count toward budget cuts. Of that, $75 billion went to defense, $12 billion to nondefense. 

Lawmakers passed a national security-themed spending package in July comprised of the other four annual appropriations bills. It included a $1.6 billion down payment to begin construction on a U.S.-Mexico border wall, a top priority for President Trump. Trump pledged during the 2016 campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall, a suggestion rejected by the Mexican government.

Despite the hours spent by the House to complete work on the individual spending bills, none of the measures are expected to get consideration in the Senate due to the threat of a Democratic filibuster.

The Senate remains significantly behind the House in its appropriations process, having passed none of its spending bills and only 10 of the 12 are through the full appropriations committee. Neither chamber has approved a budget resolution, though the House did pass one through committee, and the two chambers are working off different top-line numbers.

Congress is likely to enact an all-encompassing spending package known as an “omnibus” before current government funding runs out on Dec. 8. That package will have to include a change to budgetary caps. If lawmakers fail to do so, even a funding extension would result in sequestration — across the board cuts to meet the budget cap requirements — in late January.

Lawmakers submitted more than 900 amendments to the spending package, but the House Rules Committee only green-lighted 342 for floor consideration. 

When Republicans first took over the House majority in 2011, annual appropriations bills were considered under a process allowing members of both parties to offer unlimited amendments. But Ryan ended that practice last year after Democrats kept offering culture-war amendments on LGBT rights that divided House Republicans.

The Rules Committee therefore did not allow votes on amendments submitted by Democrats to prevent federal funds from being spent at businesses owned by President Trump, restore protections from deportation for young immigrants and prohibit spending to maintain Confederate monuments.

But the House did adopt bipartisan amendments to rein in the government’s ability to seize assets of suspected criminals, in defiance of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Sessions directed the Justice Department in July to reverse Obama-era policies that restricted the federal government from taking assets from local authorities, a practice known as “adoptive forfeiture.” Critics argue that it lets law enforcement circumvent state laws which make it harder to seize property if a person has not been convicted of a crime.

A bipartisan amendment sponsored by members ranging from the conservative House Freedom Caucus to liberal progressives was adopted by a voice vote to prevent the Justice Department from implementing Sessions’s directive. 

The House also adopted an amendment sponsored by Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) to punish so-called sanctuary cities by blocking funds from a program that helps pay to incarcerate immigrants in the U.S. illegally who have committed felonies or multiple misdemeanors.

Sanctuary cities argue that laws forcing them to turn over anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally worsen crime, because immigrants are hesitant to call the police. The amendment would force the cities to choose between that policy and receiving funds to incarcerate people in the country illegally who have committed felonies. 

Another amendment adopted by the House would block implementation of a key Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule to limit methane emissions from new oil and gas drilling sites. The EPA under President Trump has tried to halt enforcement of the rule while it works to delay it by two years, but federal judges have blocked the attempts.

Tags Jeff Sessions Paul Ryan Rodney Frelinghuysen

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