What’s in the Final VA, Energy, Legislative Branch Minibus

September 11, 2018 Jack Fitzpatrick
  • Veterans Choice program would be funded, but no cap fix
  • Measure would increase nuclear security money

The final version of a three-bill package lawmakers hope to send soon to President Donald Trump would fund a new Veterans Affairs health-care law, block money for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility, and require Senate candidates to file their finance reports electronically.

Lawmakers agreed to a final version of a package covering Military Construction-VA, Energy and Water and Legislative Branch appropriations (H.R. 5895), top appropriators announced Monday afternoon.

The measure “has bipartisan support, is free of poison pill riders and complies with the bipartisan budget agreement” on spending caps set in February, Senate Appropriations ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a statement.

Photographer: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

The package is the first of three bundles of spending legislation, comprising nine of the 12 appropriations bills, that lawmakers hope to see Trump sign before the current fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said in a statement he hopes to pass the measure in the Senate this week “so we can get this bill to the President’s desk and move to the next minibuses in the queue.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has also said he wants to pass the final measure this week.

Read more: House, Senate Reach Partial Funding Deal to Help Avert Shutdown

Military Construction-VA

The bill would provide $98.1 billion in discretionary money, $5.3 billion more than in fiscal 2018. That includes $921.4 million in Overseas Contingency Operations funds that aren’t subject to discretionary spending caps.

The Department of Veterans Affairs would receive $86.5 billion in discretionary funds, a $5 billion increase over fiscal 2018.

The measure includes $10.3 billion for military construction projects, $241 million more than in fiscal 2018. That includes the OCO funds.

VA Choice: The VA would receive an additional $1.75 billion in discretionary funds to cover costs under the VA MISSION Act (Pub. L. 115-182), which gives veterans more flexibility to seek care at non-VA health facilities. It wouldn’t adjust spending caps under the Budget Control Act (Pub. L. 112-25) to reflect the increase in discretionary spending on a program that previously was considered mandatory spending. That means other discretionary spending programs would have to be cut to make up the difference, a move some key Democrats have criticized.

Read more: VA Care Law Prompts Cuts to Other Bills, Spending Caps Debate

The joint explanatory statement for the spending package directs the Trump administration to report monthly on the cost of funding the VA Choice program under the new law. “Any change in cost is dependent on the issuance of regulations that will outline the new program structure,” the statement says.

The bill also would provide $1.1 billion for a new VA electronic health records system.

Energy and Water

The Energy and Water section would provide $44.64 billion, a $1.44 billion increase over fiscal 2018.

The measure would give a big boost to Department of Energy nuclear security programs. Energy Department weapons activities, defense nuclear nonproliferation and naval reactor programs would receive $15.23 billion, a $560 million increase over the current fiscal year.

Yucca Mountain: The legislation would deny money for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, an authorized but unfunded project that has drawn objections from Nevada politicians for decades.

Army Corps: The measure would reject a Trump administration pitch to move the Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works program to the Department of Transportation.The explanatory statement scolds the administration, saying the idea “was not properly brought to Congress as a proposal, allowing for oversight and hearings as to its effects.”

Environmental Riders: Most of the Republican environmental policy riders included in the original House bill have been cut out of the final version. House Appropriations ranking member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) called the bill “a victory for what it does not include,” referring to the policy riders, in a statement. However, the bill does include a rider restricting the use of regulations under the Clean Water Act in some agricultural areas, including farm ponds and irrigation ditches.

The bill also requires certain notifications to Congress from the secretary of energy in order to fund nuclear nonproliferation projects in Russia.

Legislative Branch

The Legislative Branch section would provide a combined $4.84 billion for the House and Senate, a $136 million increase over fiscal 2018.

FEC Filings: The bill includes a provision that would require Senate candidates to electronically file campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission, according to a summary from Senate Democrats. House candidates have long been required to file electronic campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission.

Security: The bill would provide $1 million for the U.S. Capitol Police to protect lawmakers at events away from the Capitol.

Paid Interns: House members would receive as much as $20,000 a year for paid internships, $8.8 million in total. The measure would provide $5 million for paid Senate internships.

Senate Staff Pay: The measure calls for a report within 18 months of enactment on compensation of Senate staffers “ to evaluate the extent to which Senate staff receive similar pay for similar work, both internally and externally to the Senate.”

McCain: The bill would provide a one-year payment of $174,000 to Cindy McCain, the widow of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Horses: The explanatory statement says that horse-mounted Capitol Police officers “could be beneficial both from an aesthetic and security perspective,” and calls for a report on the cost of such a proposal.

With assistance from Kenneth P. Doyle and Katherine Scott

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; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com; Brandon Lee at blee@bgov.com

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