House easily passes $1.3 trillion spending bill
The House easily passed a $1.3 trillion spending package on Thursday, sending legislation to the Senate that would prevent a shutdown and deliver the largest federal spending increase in years.
Lawmakers approved the bill in a 256-167 vote on Thursday, with majorities in each caucus backing the measure. Ninety Republicans and 77 Democrats voted against the bill. A large numbers of conservative Republicans were among those voting no over the measure’s massive price tag and the lack of transparency in the bill-writing process.
Conservative unrest came close to knocking the bill out during a procedural vote on Thursday on the rule governing debate. An unusually high number of Republicans — 25 — voted against their own party’s rule and in defiance of President Trump, who had publicly backed the package.
The Senate is expected to begin work on the bill immediately ahead of a midnight Friday deadline for preventing a shutdown.
But it’s not clear if the Senate can avoid at least a temporary gap. In February, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) caused a brief government shutdown by delaying a similar vote past its midnight deadline. He has signaled his opposition to the new package.
The spending package includes $695 billion in defense funding and $591 billion in nondefense funding, including a combined $78 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations spending that does not count toward legal budget caps. Last month, Congress agreed to increase the 2018 spending caps by $80 billion for defense and $63 billion for nondefense and set similar increases for 2019.
Alongside the $1.5 trillion tax cuts approved last year, the spending path is poised to push deficits past a trillion by next year, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said Thursday that Trump will sign the bill, even though it contains major concessions to Democrats.
“Let’s cut right to the chase. Is the president going to sign the bill? The answer is yes,” he told reporters.
Mulvaney said even though Trump did not get everything he wanted, the measure “funds his priorities” on the military and border security.
The 2,232-page bill was released Wednesday evening after lawmakers struggled for days to finalize details of the legislation.
House GOP leaders, working to sell members in their own conference on the omnibus, have praised the legislation for providing a massive funding boost for the military, funding 100 miles of the border wall and providing money to combat the opioid crisis.
“We have the greatest fighting force in the world, but we have asked them to do so much more with so much less for so long,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters before the vote Thursday. “Today we begin to reverse that damage.”
Conservatives in the lower chamber blasted both the process of crafting the massive spending package and its content, arguing it fails to provide conservative wins while adding to the deficit.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that while they would have liked to have adhered to the three-day rule, they were unable to adhere to the timeline — noting members would be attending Rep. Louise Slaughter’s (D-N.Y.) funeral Friday.
“We passed all 12 appropriation bills and we’ve gone through so much of this already — the Speaker has been walking everybody through the bill during the time,” he told reporters. “It’s something I’d like to keep longer, it’s not something, you’ll notice, we’ve never done before — it’s just certain circumstance.”
The road to passing the massive package was not an easy one. While Congress had approved a budget caps deal six weeks ago — which set the spending levels governing the omnibus — negotiators had scores of contentious policy riders to iron out before the sides signed off, a process that ran right up through Wednesday.
Among the most controversial riders were a provision providing $1.6 billion for border security, including hundreds of millions of dollars for new fence construction favored by Trump and the Republicans.
Negotiators also worked out a delicate deal on new funding for the Gateway project, a rail and tunnel initiative connecting New York and New Jersey. Trump had threatened to veto the entire package based on the initial $900 million request from regional lawmakers, notably Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). The compromise knocks the figure down to $541 million.
Other major provisions include $4 billion to fight the nation’s opioid crisis, a temporary extension to funding for the Federal Aviation Administration and language designed to fix a glitch in the GOP’s new tax law that critics said threatened small farmers.
In a surprise move, the package also features several gun-related provisions: one designed to bolster the background check system before firearm purchases and another clearing the path for federal researchers to examine gun violence as a public health threat — research that’s currently discouraged by a decades-old restriction known as the Dickey Amendment.
The conservative spending hawks were not the only critics of the package. Scores of liberal Democrats, particularly members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, opposed the omnibus largely to protest the absence of language to protect the Dreamers, young immigrants brought to the country illegally as kids.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), who opposed the package, said the Democrats caved on the effort to salvage the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“They can pat themselves on the back as much as they want; the fact is there’s going to be more enforcement in this bill,” he said. “I just think the Dreamers were thrown under the omnibus.”