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House, Senate strike deal on partial funding package to help avert shutdown
Lawmakers on Monday announced a deal to pass the first of three planned spending packages that could help avert or scale back a government shutdown in October.
Appropriators on Capitol Hill submitted a conference report for a "minibus" consisting of three spending bills that lawmakers plan to pass this week, a move that would mark the first time in a decade that Congress has sent the president more than one spending bill ahead of the annual Sept. 30 deadline.
The report irons out differences in the House and Senate versions of the three appropriations bills providing $146.57 billion in discretionary spending for measures covering Energy and Water, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and the Legislative branch.
"This Conference Report represents our strong commitment to returning to 'regular order' in government funding, and is a huge step toward completing all of our Appropriations bills as soon as possible while funding all aspects of government in a responsible way," said outgoing House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.).
Lawmakers from both chambers are in the process of negotiating another two minibus spending packages, which together would cover six spending bills and the vast majority of discretionary spending.
Congressional Republicans decided to put off work on the three remaining spending bills, including the one that deals with President Trump's border wall, until after the November midterm elections. That means Congress will need to pass a continuing resolution to maintain current spending levels for any unpassed spending bills by Oct. 1, or face a government shutdown for the agencies funded by those measures.
House and Senate negotiators initially hit a roadblock in July over whether to fund a veterans' health program under existing budget caps, which would require moving funds from other veteran programs or finding a workaround such as further raising the cap or sidestepping it with a budgetary maneuver.
Monday's compromise bill does not provide funding for the what's known as the VA Choice program.
"I remain very concerned that because it was not accommodated under the bipartisan budget agreement this package does not provide funding to cover the costs associated with the VA Choice program, which was transferred to the discretionary side of the budget under the MISSION Act," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who wanted to raise the discretionary cap to accommodate the program.
According to Leahy, the program will require $1.6 billion in funding above what the bill provides, and need even more down the line.
"This new program will face a shortfall beginning in May of 2019," Leahy said. "We do our veterans no favors when we make promises to them that we cannot keep."
The compromise bill also removed funding for a project that would store the nation's nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountains, a controversial policy rider that was included in the House's version of the spending package.