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 FrelinghuysenBottom line Republican lobbying firms riding high despite uncertainty of 2020 race Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm 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 McCollumDemocrats target Confederate monuments in spending bill OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats chart course to 'solving the climate crisis' by 2050 | Commerce Department led 'flawed process' on Sharpiegate, watchdog finds | EPA to end policy suspending pollution monitoring by end of summer EPA to end policy suspending pollution monitoring by end of summer 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 PruittEPA looks to other statutes to expand scope of coming 'secret science' rule EPA ordered to reconsider New York efforts to tame downwind pollution OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten smog standards amid pressure from green groups | Democrats split on Trump plan to use development funds for nuclear projects| Russian mining giant reports another fuel spill in Arctic 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 ZinkeTrump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog | Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service | Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog 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 MullinGeorgia strengthens democracy, moves closer to NATO with US support Five takeaways from PPP loan data Lawmaker-linked businesses received PPP loans 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 holds moment of silence for John Lewis QAnon scores wins, creating GOP problem Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg expresses 'disgust,' keeps policies | New doomsday cyber bills | QAnon follower favored for congressional seat 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 TrumpOklahoma City Thunder players kneel during anthem despite threat from GOP state lawmaker Microsoft moving forward with talks to buy TikTok after conversation with Trump Controversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled 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.