House panel clears final spending bill

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The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved a $161 billion health and labor spending bill, clearing its 12th and final annual appropriations package on the final day before recess.  

The health spending bill — typically one of the committee’s most contentious — is about a half-billion dollars shy of last year’s total. It’s nearly $3 billion below the levels requested by President Obama.

Lawmakers spent nearly 10 hours over 10 days voting on more than two dozen amendments. The hearing included partisan fights over diverse issues including ObamaCare and birth control coverage, cancer research funding, and the Zika virus.  

The bill does include bipartisan priorities, however: Lawmakers agreed to a $1.25 billion funding increase for the National Institutes of Health, the second year with a major boost to medical research.

It’s also the second time in two years that the full committee has advanced the massive health spending bill, which has not reached the House floor for debate since 2009.

This year’s measure is likely to face the same fate as last year’s, which was merged into a larger last-minute spending measure without public debate.

Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who boasted about the second year of “regular order” in his committee, joked about the bill’s future shortly after it passed Thursday.

“We’ll come back and pass all these bills on the floor when we come back in town in September,” Rogers said to laughter in the room. Just five out of 12 appropriations bills have made it onto the House floor so far this year.

The deadline for the spending bills is Sept. 30, leaving Congress little time to act when it returns from a seven-week recess that starts Friday.

Rogers also took a jab at the Senate, where House-passed appropriations bills have stalled in the past.

“We’ll pass them on the floor and send them to the other body for them to do with it as they usually do, unfortunately,” he said to more laughter.

He added that he believed the GOP-led House could have been able to approve all 12 bills on the floor “but for the truncated year that we are in, and also, the truncated Senate.” House GOP leaders began the appropriations process early this year but are still almost certain to ultimately rely on a short-term spending bill.  

Unlike the Senate’s bipartisan version of the labor and health package, the House’s bill is riddled with what Democrats call “poison pills”: measures to cut off funding for ObamaCare, birth control programs and President Obama’s latest overtime rule.

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