House approves $259.5B spending package

The House on Friday approved a $259.5 billion four-bill package of spending bills for the 2021 fiscal year.

The package included the bills for state and foreign operations; agriculture; interior and environment; and military construction and veterans affairs.

The legislative package passed in a largely party-line 224-189 vote. Seven Democrats and the chamber’s sole Independent joined every Republican in voting against the measure.

Lawmakers rejected deep cuts proposed by President Trump to the State Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The foreign operations bill provides billions in foreign assistance to countries such as Israel, Egypt and Ukraine and money for counternarcotics operations in a number of Latin American countries.

The agriculture bill includes over $1 billion to expand rural broadband, funds a slew of nutritional assistance programs and would give the Federal Drug Administration mandatory recall authority for prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

The interior bill also funds arts and humanities programs and museums, including funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which Trump sought to eliminate in his budget. It also funds the Smithsonian Institution, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The package touches on a variety of hot-button political issues.

It would ensure funding for the World Health Organization, a body Trump vowed to cut ties and funding for, blaming it for the spread of the coronavirus.

It would block the “Mexico City policy,” which prevents U.S. funds from flowing to foreign aid and health organizations that support abortion rights.

It would block a controversial Trump administration rule that scientists and advocacy groups say would make it harder for the EPA to use some forms of commonly-accepted science in its rulemaking process.

Finally, it would block Trump from using military construction funds to build his signature border wall, and refuse to backfill accounts he emptied to fund the wall using emergency powers.

Over the course of two days, the House adopted amendments that would block Trump’s use of emergency authority to keep meat plants open as essential services during the pandemic, ban government contracts with any of Trump’s businesses, and prevent drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“This appropriations package addresses urgent national priorities,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.). 

“I am proud that the package also includes strong emergency appropriations to confront coronavirus and support economic recovery, with investments in critical infrastructure and coronavirus preparedness, response, and relief domestically and globally,” she said.

Rep. Kay Granger (Texas), the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, praised elements of the bill, but objected to “poison pill” policy provisions on issues such as immigration and abortion, as well as significant off-book spending increases.

“This bill supports the veterans who have honorably served our country, the diplomats who promote American businesses and our values around the world, the farmers and ranchers who put food on our tables, and the custodians of our parks and public lands who protect our national treasures. Unfortunately, I’m not able to support this bill before us because it has some fatal flaws,” she said on the floor.

“First, there are many policy provisions similar to the partisan legislation the majority has pushed through the House the last few months. And second, the spending levels exceeded the amounts the Congress and the president agreed to just last year.”

The package included nearly $40 billion of off-book spending that surpassed spending limits Republicans and Democrats agreed to last summer, almost all of it in the guise of emergency supplemental spending. Democrats added some $250 billion of emergency and additional off-book spending total to the annual spending bills.

Next week, the House will take up another package of seven spending bills, including the controversial homeland security bill, which deals with immigration and border security.

Democrats had hoped to unify around that bill after it was shelved last year amid divisions within the party over immigration policy. Still, the two co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and several other prominent progressives said the bill should have been scrapped, which could foreshadow drama in next week’s vote.

The only one of the 12 annual spending bills not being considered on the floor is the legislative branch bill, which was also scrapped last year over disagreements on increasing congressional pay.

The spending bills face an unlikely path to the president’s desk before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. Without funding bills or a continuing resolution — a stopgap measure that extends current funding levels — the government would shut down.

The Republican-controlled upper chamber, which would likely nix much of the extra spending in the House bills and battle over the policy provisions, is itself mired in disagreements over spending.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has not introduced a single spending bill for the year, and seems unlikely to do so as Democrats call for including police reform and COVID-19 health measures in the bills. 

Republicans say that Congress is addressing those issues in separate bills.

The standoff has juiced the chances of a continuing resolution to push the deadline beyond November’s election and into the lame-duck session, or possibly into 2021, at which point the balance of power in Washington may have changed.

—Juliegrace Brufke contributed.

Tags Abortion Appropriations arts funding Budget Coronavirus Donald Trump Immigration Kay Granger Mexico City Policy Nita Lowey

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