House OKs $788 bil­lion in spend­ing; Se­nate next

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - AN­DREW TAY­LOR

WASH­ING­TON — The House passed a $ 788 bil­lion spend­ing bill Thurs­day that com­bines a $1.6 bil­lion down pay­ment for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s bor­der wall with Mex­ico with a bud­get in­crease for the Pen­tagon.

The 235-192 vote both eases a back­log of un­fin­ished spend­ing bills and gives Trump and his House GOP al­lies po­lit­i­cal wins head­ing into the Au­gust re­cess. Hur­dles re­main in front of the mea­sure, how­ever, which will meet with more Demo­cratic op­po­si­tion in the Se­nate.

The 326- page mea­sure would make good on long­time GOP prom­ises to re­verse an ero­sion in mil­i­tary readi­ness. It would give vet­er­ans pro­grams a 5 per­cent in­crease and fund a 2.4 per­cent mil­i­tary pay raise.

GOP lead­ers used the pop­u­lar­ity of the Pen­tagon and vet­er­ans pro­grams to power through Trump’s bor­der wall.

“Ev­ery sin­gle dime the pres­i­dent re­quested to start build­ing a wall on our south­ern bor­der he’s go­ing to get,” said House Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin Mc­Carthy, R- Calif. “Most im­por­tantly, we’re send­ing more to the VA to fix vet­er­ans’ health care and re­form out­dated VA sys­tems.”

Still, a po­ten­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down bat­tle over the U.S.-Mex­ico wall looms with Se­nate Democrats this fall. The gen­er­ous de­fense spend­ing in­creases also run afoul of strict spend­ing lim­its set by an ear­lier bud­get law, and there’s been no progress on a bi­par­ti­san bud­get deal that would be a pre­req­ui­site for the higher spend­ing to take full ef­fect.

The House added Trump’s wall fund­ing by a 230-196 pro­ce­dural vote that de­nied Democrats an up-or-down vote. Opin­ion shows that the pub­lic has lit­tle re­gard for the wall, and many of the GOP’s more mod­er­ate law­mak­ers op­pose it.

Trump promised at nearly ev­ery rally and cam­paign event that Mex­ico would pay for the wall. Mex­ico said no, and U.S. tax­pay­ers will have to pro­vide the money.

“The pres­i­dent has promised this fund­ing, the Amer­i­can peo­ple want this fund­ing, and to­day the House is mak­ing good on that prom­ise,” said Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss.

Crit­ics say that ex­ist­ing fenc­ing is more than enough and that the por­tions of the bor­der with­out it are too re­mote for cross­ings and that tribal law, en­vi­ron­men­tal re­quire­ments, and per­sonal prop­erty rights have blocked fenc­ing for most of the rest.

“No­body would know it from the pres­i­dent’s hys­ter­i­cal rhetoric, but there are al­ready 700 miles of fence down there on the bor­der — ve­hic­u­lar fenc­ing, pedes­trian fenc­ing,” said Rep. David Price, D-N.C. “I know about it be­cause most of that fenc­ing was built when I was chair­man of the home­land se­cu­rity ap­pro­pri­a­tions sub­com­mit­tee.”

At is­sue are the spend­ing bills passed by Congress each year to fund the day-to-day op­er­a­tions of fed­eral agen­cies. Trump is push­ing for a sweep­ing in­crease for the Pen­tagon and com­men­su­rate cuts of more than $50 bil­lion, or 10 per­cent, from do­mes­tic agen­cies and for­eign aid. House Repub­li­cans are re­spond­ing by adding even more for de­fense but have sig­nif­i­cantly scaled back Trump’s cuts to do­mes­tic pro­grams such as com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment grants and med­i­cal re­search.

GOP lead­ers had hoped to ad­vance a broader “om­nibus” pack­age that would have in­cluded each of the 12 mea­sures. But the GOP rank and file balked, so Repub­li­cans de­vised a smaller bill an­chored by the Pen­tagon bud­get, fund­ing for vet­er­ans pro­grams and money for the wall.

But most of the sweep­ing Pen­tagon in­creases — which to­tal about $60 bil­lion above cur­rent lev­els and al­most $30 bil­lion higher than Trump’s bud­get — would evap­o­rate next year un­less there’s a bi­par­ti­san agree­ment to raise bud­get “caps” set by a 2011 bud­get pact. A two- year agree­ment that eased those “se­ques­tra­tion” spend­ing lim­its ex­pires in Septem­ber.

Both Democrats and Repub­li­cans in the Se­nate want ad­di­tional fund­ing for do­mes­tic pro­grams. Democrats have lots of lever­age be­cause their votes are needed to pass the fund­ing mea­sures. For now, the Se­nate is work­ing in a bi­par­ti­san fash­ion on a sharply dif­fer­ent set of bills that, on av­er­age, are frozen at cur­rent lev­els.

Ear­lier this year, Congress and Trump united over spend­ing bills for the cur­rent bud­get year that largely stuck to work done last year un­der for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. Trump re­luc­tantly signed a $1.2 tril­lion catchall spend­ing bill in May af­ter his de­mand for bor­der wall money looked like it would stall the mea­sure.

The cur­rent bill, how­ever, re­flects the changed bal­ance of power in GOP-con­trolled Wash­ing­ton. Weapons pro­cure­ment is a top pri­or­ity, in­clud­ing two ad­di­tional lit­toral com­bat ships above Trump’s re­quest and 14 un­re­quested next-gen­er­a­tion F-35 fight­ers.

Democrats said the big gains for now are il­lu­sory since au­to­matic bud­get cuts known as se­ques­tra­tion re­main in place.

“We do not give cer­tainty to our de­fense or con­fi­dence to our troops when we leg­is­late with phony num­bers, when we refuse to make hon­est choices about our de­fense bud­get,” said Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “In­stead of giv­ing cer­tainty to our he­roes in uni­form, this bill would breach the se­quester spend­ing limit by more than $ 70 bil­lion, forc­ing a manda­tory 13 per­cent cut to all de­fense ac­counts.”


A U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pa­trol agent passes along a sec­tion of bor­der wall Nov. 13 in Hi­dalgo, Texas.

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