Defense spending bill advances over Democratic wall objections
The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved its annual defense spending bill on a 16-15 party-line vote, despite Democratic objections over President Trump’s border wall.
“Funding an ineffective, failed campaign promise, which the president promised Mexico would pay for, is not a priority of the American people and should not be the priority of this committee,” said Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
The split vote raises questions for the Senate’s ability to pass spending legislation — which must also be reconciled with the Democratic-controlled House — ahead of a Sept. 30 funding deadline.
Democrats objected to the fact that the bill did not explicitly block Trump from raiding defense funds and redirecting them toward building the wall under the auspices of a national emergency.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that appropriators want to take the Pentagon’s budget request at face value, and not worry they are inflated to allow funds “found in couch cushions” to be redirected.
“We’re being taken for a ride here on at least $7 billion of cushion money,” he said.
Democrats also voted against a plan to divvy up nearly $1.3 trillion among the 12 spending bills that fund the federal government and its major programs. They objected that extra funds for the wall had inflated the Homeland Security account at the expense of Democratic priorities such as health care.
Republicans said that limiting the president’s transfer authority would be too broad a fix, and noted that they included offsets from mandatory spending funds toward the main health bill.
“All in all, I believe the chairman’s proposal is entirely reasonable, given where we are in the process,” said Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).
“The time for haggling over the terms of the budget agreement is past,” he added.
Democrats and Republicans agreed to a top-line spending deal over the summer, an agreement that also promised to keep controversial policy amendments out of the process.
Two other spending bills, funding the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education departments as well as the State Department and foreign operations, were pulled from the hearing as Democrats prepared amendments to restrict a Trump rule that limits funds for organizations that provide information on abortion.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said at the hearing that she had been reassured that there would be further opportunities to deal with Democratic objections, including final negotiations with the Democratic-led House.
But she expressed dismay that her amendment on the abortion bill had been pulled, noting that it had not been considered a “poison pill” in years past.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who sits on the committee, noted that the controversy threatened the ability of the Senate to proceed with plans to pass at least one “minibus” package of several spending bills by the end of the month.
Both McConnell and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have agreed that a stopgap measure will be needed, likely until mid-November, to keep the government running when the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
The committee did approve the energy and water bill, among the least controversial of the annual spending bills, unanimously.
McConnell can now bring both bills to the Senate floor for a vote, where they face an uncertain fate.
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