Spending Deal Includes Border Wall Funds, Not Police Provisions

  • The $1.4 trillion bill sheds emergency funds, sticks to 2019 deal
  • Democrats drop push to tie police grants to ban on chokeholds

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Republicans won key victories on spending levels and policy riders in Monday’s omnibus funding package, but that’s little consolation to conservatives frustrated with the last-minute release of a $1.4 trillion measure along with a $900 billion stimulus bill.

Lawmakers agreed to keep the 12-bill government funding package within the $1.4 trillion limit set in a 2019 budget agreement, after House Democrats initially pushed for nearly $250 billion in emergency funds beyond the statutory spending limits. Democrats also agreed to drop some of their most ambitious policy riders, including measures that would have pushed for police reforms. And the measure includes some long-standing conservative policy riders on environmental issues and abortion.

But conservatives are still upset with the decision to release a 5,593-page bill just hours before government funding is set to expire at midnight Monday. The measure—being offered as a House amendment to a bill (H.R. 133) already passed by both chambers with differing language—includes the omnibus, a roughly $900 billion coronavirus relief stimulus bill, and several other authorizing measures, including an energy policy bill.

The conservative Heritage Action for America urged lawmakers to oppose the bill, though the group credited Republicans with limiting the government funding portion to $1.4 trillion.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior appropriator, at Monday’s House Rules Committee meeting praised the inclusion of $1.4 billion for border wall construction and long-standing anti-abortion riders.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) touted the bill’s increases in education funding, affordable housing, full funding for food aid, and clean-energy measures, among others.

Top Lines Spending Levels

The package would provide the following discretionary funding totals for its 12 appropriations bills, according to a House Democratic summary.

  • Agriculture-FDA: $23.395 billion, about $217 million above fiscal 2020;
  • Commerce-Justice-Science: $71.1 billion, about $2 billion below fiscal 2020;
  • Defense: $696 billion, including $68.7 billion in cap-exempt Overseas Contingency Operations funds; the total is $2.6 billion higher than in fiscal 2020;
  • Energy and Water: $49.5 billion, a $1.1 billion decrease below fiscal 2020;
  • Financial Services: $24.4 billion, a $281 million increase;
  • Homeland Security: $51.88 billion, $1.4 billion below fiscal 2020; that figure doesn’t include $17.1 billion in emergency disaster funds;
  • Interior-Environment: $36.107 billion, an increase of $118 million;
  • Labor-HHS-Education: $197 billion in programmatic funding, a $2.8 billion increase;
  • Legislative Branch: $5.3 billion, a $251 million increase;
  • Military Construction-VA: $113.1 billion, an $8.9 billion increase;
  • State and Foreign Operations: $55.5 billion, including $8 billion in OCO funds, an $820 million increase; and
  • Transportation-HUD: $75.4 billion, a $1.1 billion increase.

Spending Caps: The omnibus includes $3.1 billion in emergency funds for agency operations affected by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a House Democratic summary. That falls short of House Democrats’ original proposal for $234.9 billion in cap-exempt funds broadly relating to the coronavirus.

The bill’s $12.5 billion for the VA MISSION Act (Public Law 115-182) also falls within statutory spending limits. Senate Republicans had joined Democrats in calling for a cap exemption for those funds, but House Republicans opposed the move. The 2018 law aims to give veterans greater flexibility in seeking care outside the Department of Veterans Affairs system, but it also switched some funds from the mandatory side of the ledger to the discretionary side, meaning the cost would have to be offset by cuts elsewhere without a cap exemption.

Other Provisions

Strategic National Stockpile: The Labor-HHS-Education section of the bill calls on officials to provide monthly reports to appropriators on the Strategic National Stockpile’s inventory of personal protective equipment and ventilators. The bill would provide $705 million for the stockpile, equal to the fiscal 2020 level.

Border Wall: Lawmakers settled on nearly $1.4 billion for border wall construction, short of President Donald Trump’s request for nearly $2 billion. His $5 billion request for fiscal 2019 led to the longest shutdown in the country’s history, but he hasn’t had a standoff with lawmakers over wall funding since he circumvented Congress by using military funds to build additional fencing.

The measure would cut funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement by $106.5 million compared to fiscal 2020, to slightly less than $8 billion.

Policing: The bill omits a series of measures pushed by House Democrats that had aimed to address racial disparities in policing. The original House bills included a measure that would have made some state and local police grants contingent on policy changes including a ban on chokeholds, and a provision that would have barred funding for law enforcement for crowd control unless members wear “a clearly visible identification of the law enforcement agency.” The final bill does include some smaller measures, such as $5 million to build databases to track claims of excessive force and officer misconduct, and $5 million to for the attorney general to create a task force on law enforcement oversight.

The omnibus would provide $484 million for Byrne JAG grants, $386 million for Community Oriented Policing Services, and $189 million to address sexual assault kit and other DNA evidence backlogs, among other funds.

Congressional Pay: The bill would block a pay increase for members of Congress and their staff. Pay increases have been blocked since 2009.

Family Planning: The bill includes the long-standing Hyde amendment, which bars federal funds for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman. Congressional Democrats have said they want to remove the Hyde amendment from spending bills starting in fiscal 2022, when a Democrat will be in the White House. President-elect Joe Biden has said he also opposes the Hyde amendment.

The measure would keep Title X family planning funds flat at the fiscal 2020 level of $286.5 million. It would also keep funding flat for teen pregnancy prevention grants at $101 million.

House Democrats also dropped their demand for a measure that would block the Trump administration’s Title X rule that prohibited family planning funds from going to clinics that provide abortion referrals

International Organizations: The omnibus omits language sought by Democrats that would have required the U.S. to continue sending funds to the World Health Organization and banning officials from withdrawing the U.S. from NATO. Spending bills have typically left WHO contributions up to the executive branch, instead providing a broader account for contributions to international organizations, but Democrats hoped to require WHO funding after Trump’s decision to withdraw from the organization.

Environmental Riders: Lawmakers included longstanding environmental policy riders that Democrats wanted to remove from the bill. One measure would block officials from proposing an Endangered Species Act rule to protect the greater sage grouse, a game bird that inhabits a large expanse of oil- and gas-producing land in the West. Another would direct officials to establish policies that treat forest biomass as a renewable energy source, a move that would encourage the use of wood pellets for energy.

Shasta Dam: The measure doesn’t include a Republican provision that would fund the expansion of the Shasta Dam across the Sacramento River in Northern California, a measure House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has supported. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) opposed raising the dam, spokesman Henry Connelly said in a Dec. 10 statement. Raising the dam would flood parts of another nearby river, harm sacred tribal lands and degrade the habitat of Chinook salmon, Connelly said.

Copyright, Trademark Measures: Lawmakers folded several intellectual property provisions into the legislation, including language that would create a copyright small claims tribunal. Other parts would make copyright piracy through streaming a felony and create a fast lane to cancel fraudulent trademarks.

Air Safety Policies: Sweeping aviation safety measures that would require aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing Co. to enact new safety policies, shield employees from company pressures, and toughen government enforcement are included in the legislation.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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