House completes first half of 2019 spending bills

House completes first half of 2019 spending bills
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The House on Thursday passed a package of two 2019 appropriations bills, marking the halfway point in its quest to pass the 12 annual spending bills needed to fund the government.

Totaling $58.7 billion, the Financial Services bill and the Interior and Environment bills fund agencies including the IRS and various financial regulators, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Interior Department and a series of popular arts programs. 

The bill passed mostly along party lines, in a vote of 217-199. 

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Fifteen Republicans joined every Democrat in voting against the measure, including several conservatives protesting the spending levels. 

“These bills fund vital programs across the federal government, including those that make Americans safer, protect our nation’s resources, and create jobs,” Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenTop House GOP appropriations staffer moves to lobbying shop Individuals with significant disabilities need hope and action Exiting lawmakers jockey for K Street perch MORE (R-N.J.) said on the House floor.

The full Senate has not yet passed its versions of the bills but is expected to take them up next week, potentially alongside spending bills covering Agriculture and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.

The two chambers have until Oct. 1 to pass all 12 appropriations bills, iron out the differences and send them to the president’s desk for signature, a feat Congress has been unable to accomplish on time in over two decades. 

Without signed spending bills or a stopgap measure, the government will shut down.

The portion of the bill for EPA and Interior Department funding rings in at $35.3 billion.

The EPA would get $7.96 billion, a cut of just $100 million below the fiscal 2018 level but more than $2.2 billion higher than what Trump had proposed for the agency.

Interior, which includes agencies like the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, would get $13 billion, about the same as the current year.

“The bill prioritizes funding to fight and preventing devastating wildfires, fully funding the 10-year average for suppression costs,” Frelinghuysen said. “The bill also targets critical resources to major infrastructure that will improve the lives of Americans, boosting funding to ensure communities have access to safe drinking water, and accelerates the cleanup of Superfund sites.”

Democrats argued that the bill doesn't provide enough funding, and criticized policy provisions, like one to repeal the EPA’s Obama-era Clean Water Rule.

“These riders undermine clean water and clean air safeguards, jeopardize protection and recovery for vulnerable species, and even intercede in California water issues outside of the jurisdiction of the subcommittee,” said Rep. Betty McCollumBetty Louise McCollumLawmakers stunned by national park shutdown funding reversal Overnight Energy: GOP pushes back on climate | 2018 was fourth hottest year on record | Park Service reverses on using fees Park Service backtracks, won’t use entrance fees to pay for shutdown operations MORE (Minn.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee subpanel responsible for the bill.

Democrats also sought provisions to crack down on former EPA head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: EPA to make formal decision on regulating drinking water contaminant | Utility to close coal plant despite Trump plea | Greens say climate is high on 2020 voters’ minds EPA to announce PFAS chemical regulation plans by end of year Court tosses challenge to EPA's exclusion of certain scientists from advisory boards MORE’s spending and ethics scandals and try to prevent similar instances in the future.

“There is ample evidence that the former administrator was misusing federal dollars for lavish expenses and prioritizing the interest of corporations over protecting America's families,” McCollum said.

The House on Wednesday voted down a proposed amendment that would have boosted the budget for Interior’s Office of Inspector General by $2.5 million. The office is investigating numerous matters regarding Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Zinke joins Trump-tied lobbying firm | Senators highlight threat from invasive species | Top Republican calls for Green New Deal vote in House Zinke, Lewandowski join Trump veterans’ lobbying firm Is a presidential appointment worth the risk? MORE, including a real estate deal involving a foundation Zinke is tied to and the former chairman of oil services firm Halliburton.

Lawmakers also passed a pair of amendments from Rep. Markwayne MullinMarkwayne MullinDemocrat responds to being told 'go back to Puerto Rico' on House floor Liz Cheney wins House GOP leadership post Overnight Health Care: Opioids package nears finish line | Measure to help drug companies draws ire | Maryland ObamaCare rates to drop MORE (R-Okla.) to target Obama administration policies.

One amendment would repeal Interior’s methane pollution rule for oil and natural gas drillers on federal land and another would block the Social Cost of Carbon, a metric the Obama administration used to justify climate policies. The Trump administration is working to repeal the methane rule and has already stopped using the carbon metric.

The bill also provides funding for offices such as the U.S. Geological Survey and the Smithsonian museums. 

The financial services portion of the bill would provide $23.4 billion to agencies including the IRS, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Federal Communications Commission and the federal judiciary.

The IRS would get a $186 million funding boost under the measure, bringing its budget to $11.6 billion. That amount includes $77 million that the IRS had requested for implementation of the tax-cut law Trump signed in December. 

The SEC would get a funding reduction of $201 million for 2019, with the decrease occurring because the agency had a one-time cost in 2018 relating to lease renewals.

The measure also includes a top priority of Rep. Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesHouse passes border deal, setting up Trump to declare emergency Lawmakers introduce bill to fund government, prevent shutdown The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - Next 24 hours critical for stalled funding talks MORE (R-Ga.) — the chairman of the House Appropriations financial services subcommittee — to set aside $585 million that can’t be spent until the federal government either has zero deficit or a surplus. 

While Republicans and budget watchers cheered the measure, Democrats took issue with the fact that it doesn’t include funds for direct assistance to states for their efforts to safeguard elections from cyberattacks.

Democrats also opposed a number of policy riders included with the bill.

One of these would prevent the IRS generally from using funds to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches that participate in political campaigns. 

Others would make changes in the financial regulatory area, such as subjecting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to annual appropriations.

The bill also bans certain initiatives in D.C., including reversing an assisted suicide law for terminally ill adults and banning federal funds being used for needle exchange programs. It also would stop federal funding for enforcement of a D.C. law that outlaws workplace discrimination based on abortion and use of birth control. 

The White House objected to some of the funding decisions made in the bill, expressing “concern” in a formal letter to appropriators that funding levels significantly outpaced its own budget proposal. 

In addition to lamenting the level of EPA funding, the White House has griped that the bill funds programs such as the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), which it had proposed eliminating.

“The Administration does not consider their activities to be core Federal responsibilities,” the White House wrote in its Statement of Administration Policy.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpMcCabe says he was fired because he 'opened a case against' Trump McCabe: Trump said 'I don't care, I believe Putin' when confronted with US intel on North Korea McCabe: Trump talked to me about his election victory during 'bizarre' job interview MORE signed a bipartisan deal earlier in the year agreeing to new spending caps, but he has continued to rail against spending levels that conform to the deal.

The Office of Management and Budget last week projected that the federal deficit would surpass $1 trillion in 2019, a far cry from Trump’s campaign promise of wiping out the nation’s debt over the course of eight years.