Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Wall Funding Waits While Leaders Rush Bipartisan Spending Bills

September 6, 2018 Jack Fitzpatrick
  • Conservatives have little leverage to move Homeland measure
  • Labor-HHS bill a high priority for Democrats for quick passage

The race to complete appropriations bills before the fiscal year ends this month is more likely to benefit Democrats than conservative Republicans, as congressional leaders plan to pass a major domestic spending bill quickly and delay efforts to secure more money for a border wall.

Lawmakers are expected to follow the Senate’s bipartisan strategy and send President Donald Trump a package (H.R. 6157) by Sept. 30 funding the Departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.

House conservatives would rather pass a defense spending bill alone and tie the Labor-HHS-Education bill to a package that includes a tougher measure to negotiate, such as the wall along the border with Mexico.

Those complaints are outweighed by the need for bipartisan support in order to garner 60 votes in the Senate, said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) chairman of the House Appropriations Labor-HHS Subcommittee.

“They did it in the Senate. We don’t have much choice,” Cole told reporters yesterday. “If you want the defense bill, you’re going to have to deal with the `Labor-H’ bill.”

The top-line spending figure for the Labor-HHS-Education measure will be a compromise between the House version, which would keep the funding at the fiscal 2018 level of $177.1 billion, and the Senate version, which would boost it to $179.3 billion. Cole declined to give a specific figure. He acknowledged the Labor-HHS bill, which is a major priority for Democrats and unpopular among many conservatives, will be tough to negotiate.

“There’ll be some heartburn on both sides,” Cole said of the bill’s allocation. “It’s a reasonable compromise.”

The House agreed to a motion to go to conference on the defense and Labor-HHS pairing by voice vote yesterday.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said Republicans are wasting their leverage by attaching a major Democratic priority to the defense spending bill, which could garner bipartisan support anyway. Many Republicans will support the defense spending bill, and Democrats will get their biggest appropriations victory of the year with the Labor-HHS bill, Meadows said. When it comes time to negotiate a Homeland Security spending bill with border wall money, Republicans will have little to offer, Meadows told reporters this morning.

“They’re buying Republican votes with defense, and they’re in my mind essentially trading away any leverage that we might have of getting things more comprehensively done after Sept. 30” on border security and immigration, Meadows said.

Lawmakers hope to pass up to nine of the dozen appropriations bills by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, leaving Homeland Security, Commerce-Justice-Science and State and Foreign Operations until after the November midterm elections.

House lawmakers included $5 billion for the border wall in their Homeland Security bill, while Senate appropriators included $1.6 billion in their legislation. The gap is too great to strike a deal in the next month, Meadows said. However, he said conservatives won’t gain leverage by passing a Labor-HHS bill before they get to the debate over the wall funding.

Trump originally requested $1.6 billion in his budget proposal in February, but later informally requested $5 billion. There are currently about 700 miles of wall and fencing along the southern border. Trump has threatened a shutdown over the border wall issue.

Key Senate Republicans have lately warmed to the idea of increasing the amount of border wall money, but at least nine Democrats will need to support the measure in order to get 60 votes.

Republican leaders plan to head to the White House today for a meeting where spending priorities could well come up.

Read More:Trump Flirts With Government Shutdown That Republicans Are Racing to Avoid

Arming Teachers: A top House Democratic appropriator said she and her colleagues will attempt to prevent states and local school districts from using a federal loan program to purchase guns for teachers, one of dozens of contentious policy issues that have yet to be settled in the Labor-HHS bill, Emily Wilkins reports.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said it is up to states and local education agencies to determine how to spend a $1.1 billion grant authorized though a K-12 education law (Public Law 114-95). The grant program, which both House and Senate appropriators have suggested should be increased, can be used for a range of items including arts, technology and school safety.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the ranking member on the House Appropriations Labor-HHS Subcommittee, said appropriators would push back against using the grant to buy firearms, although she didn’t say how.

“Arming teachers is just not going to make students safer,” DeLauro said in a statement. “House Appropriators will fight to prohibit states from using federal funds from being used in such a reckless manner through this year’s funding bills.”

Minibus Expectations: Sending the president nine appropriations bills by Sept. 30 would be a significant victory for appropriators, but time is running short. Cole said he expects lawmakers to send Trump at least five bills by that date. Meadows said he expects “a few minor bills” to pass and the rest of the government to be funded by a continuing resolution at the current levels.

Members of the conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate packages covering Military Construction-VA, Energy and Water and Legislative Branch spending (H.R. 6147) are scheduled to meet today to work on a final bill.

Negotiators are “very close” to agreeing on a final Interior-Environment spending bill, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Appropriations Interior-Environment Subcommittee, told reporters yesterday. Both chambers have passed different versions of the bill.

Appropriators have a lower allocation than originally anticipated for the Transportation-HUD funding bill, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said, but he told reporters he still thinks lawmakers can pass the measure by the end of the month. The Senate has passed its T-HUD bill but the House has not voted on its own version.

With assistance from Emily Wilkins

To contact the reporter on this story: Jack Fitzpatrick in Washington at jfitzpatrick@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com; Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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