Finance

Bill with $5 billion in wall funding advanced over Democrats’ objections

Greg Nash

Republicans at a contentious hearing on Thursday pushed through a Homeland Security spending measure that included $5 billion for President Trump’s proposed border wall over the opposition of Democrats, who vowed to block the bill’s passage on the floor.

“This is a waste of taxpayer dollars and bad for our country,” said Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee’s top Democrat.

“It is not about solving real problems, it is about fulfilling a campaign promise. And let’s not forget the president promised that Mexico would pay for the wall,” he added.

{mosads}With the exception of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), every Democrat on the committee voted against the bill, which passed 17-14.

The committee also rejected two Democratic amendments to the $70.7 billion bill that would strip out the wall money and block Trump from using emergency powers to reprogram funds from other accounts.

“I find it absurd that we are doing backflips to avoid exercising our constitutional role,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). Responding to complaints that such issues would be better addressed in the Military Construction bill, from which Trump reprogrammed $3.6 billion, Schatz incredulously pointed out that the bill had been withdrawn from consideration last week to avoid discussing the issue.

“I agree that this is not the ideal venue for this vote, but this is the only time we’ll have the opportunity to express ourselves,” he said.

Some Republicans on the committee expressed their frustration with what they said was executive overreach, but voted against the amendment anyway.

“He’s speaking truth to all of us as appropriators here,” Sen. Lisa Murkowsky (R-Alaska) said in response to Schatz’s comments.

“I’m really struggling with this, because I take really seriously the role we have as appropriators,” she said before “reluctantly” voting against the amendment.

The move was the latest sign of trouble in an appropriations process wracked with controversy over the wall.

Having failed to pass a single spending bill on the floor ahead of the new fiscal year’s start on Oct. 1, the Senate on Thursday passed an eight-week stopgap measure, or continuing resolution, to prevent a government shutdown.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) called for compromise, and noted the committee’s success in approving smaller, less controversial bills.

“For those negotiations to end in success, my Democratic colleagues and the President will have to reach an agreement, once again, on border security,” he said.

“If these conditions are not met, I fear we are moving headlong toward a full-year continuing resolution,” he added.

A scheduled Thursday meeting between Trump and Shelby to discuss a path forward on appropriations was postponed by a day. Leahy proposed advancing the non-controversial bills while negotiations over the more contentious bills continued.

The Democratic-controlled House, however, is determined not to pass any spending bills until there is an agreement on all 12 bills.

In additions to Homeland Security, the committee unanimously approved four additional bills: the $35.8 billion Interior and Environment bill, the $55 billion State and Foreign Operations bill, the $70.8 billion Commerce, Justice, Science bill and the $3.6 billion Legislative Branch bill.

The State and Foreign Operations bill, which had been scrapped two weeks ago over abortion-related policies, was added back to the agenda late Wednesday night.

Democrats complained that they were blocked from introducing amendments stopping the Mexico City Policy, or gag rule, which prevents foreign funds from going to organizations that provide counseling or referrals for abortion. Republicans said such an amendment constituted a controversial “poison pill” rider, which both sides agreed to avoid as part of a topline spending deal in the summer.

“I’m disappointed because I think that sets a precedent that’s not going to be good for anyone,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.)

“When something has been offered for 18 years, I don’t register that as a poison pill amendment.”

The conversation also shifted to Ukraine, just as Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before the House Intelligence Committee on the topic. Maguire testified over a whistleblower report alleging that President Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine while trying to pressure its president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) noted that the issue had come up in the committee just two weeks before, when he dropped an amendment that would compel the administration to provide all appropriate military aid to Ukraine. The administration had freed up $250 million of blocked funds for Ukraine the night before, seemingly obviating the need for the amendment.

“The plot has thickened dramatically since then,” Durbin noted. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) officially threw her weight behind an impeachment investigation over the matter on Tuesday.

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), who chairs the subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, said he was willing to work on language to ensure aid went forward.

“I want to send a clear signal, we’re going to keep helping the Ukraine,” he said.

The Legislative Branch bill maintained a pay freeze on Congressional salaries. In the House, controversy over the issue led to the bill being pulled off the floor, leaving just it and the Homeland Security measure as the only two unpassed bills.

Updated at 4:33 p.m.

Tags Brian Schatz Dick Durbin Donald Trump Government shutdown Jeanne Shaheen Joe Biden Joe Manchin Nancy Pelosi Patrick Leahy Richard Shelby

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