GOP un­veils stop­gap bill to keep govern­ment open

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Repub­li­cans an­nounced a stop­gap spend­ing bill Tues­day to keep the govern­ment open through April 28, which would buy them enough time to give Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump a chance to get his ad­min­is­tra­tion up and run­ning next year.

It in­cludes a pro­vi­sion that would al­low for the next Con­gress to quickly ap­prove a re­cently re­tired gen­eral who is Mr. Trump’s pick for de­fense sec­re­tary — lan­guage that irked Democrats, who in­sisted the coun­try should have a de­bate over civil­ian con­trol of the mil­i­tary.

Rac­ing against a Fri­day dead­line, when cur­rent author­ity for govern­ment spend­ing ex­pires, the GOP will try to push the bill through in a se­ries of votes Thurs­day and Fri­day, in what’s ex­pected to be the end of the 114th Con­gress.

The bill keeps most govern­ment agen­cies op­er­at­ing at 2016 levels, but boosts de­fense spend­ing by some $8 bil­lion on an an­nu­al­ized ba­sis, hop­ing to keep up with the ex­ten­sive U.S. mil­i­tary com­mit­ments over­seas, the bill’s au­thor said.

The new leg­is­la­tion also al­lows hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in ad­di­tional money to be spent next year to care for the new surge of il­le­gal im­mi­grant chil­dren jump­ing the bor­der — though the money can’t be ac­cessed un­til Fe­bru­ary, tak­ing the fi­nal de­ci­sion out of Pres­i­dent Obama’s hands.

And the bill con­tains $4.1 bil­lion in new dis­as­ter re­lief and re­con­struc­tion money to take care of dam­age from hur­ri­canes, floods and se­vere drought.

“This leg­is­la­tion is just a Band-Aid, but a crit­i­cal one. It will give the next Con­gress the time to com­plete the an­nual ap­pro­pri­a­tions process, and in the mean­time, take care of im­me­di­ate na­tional fund­ing needs,” said House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Chair­man Hal Rogers, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can.

The most con­tro­ver­sial part of the bill may be the lan­guage that would clear the way for re­tired Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mat­tis to be de­fense sec­re­tary, de­spite only leav­ing the mil­i­tary in 2013. The law re­quires at least seven years to have elapsed be­fore a re­tired mem­ber of the mil­i­tary can take over at the Pen­tagon.

Repub­li­cans want to quickly ap­prove a waiver of the law next year, but could face an ex­ten­sive de­lay with Se­nate fil­i­busters. The new bill changes the usual de­bate rules, pre­serv­ing the 60-vote thresh­old but lim­it­ing the amount of time a Demo­cratic fil­i­buster could last.

Democrats had warned against tack­ling the is­sue in the spend­ing bill.

“Brush­ing aside the law that en­shrines civil­ian con­trol of the mil­i­tary — with­out dis­cus­sion, in a mas­sive must-pass fund­ing bill — would set a ter­ri­ble prece­dent,” said House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, in the hours be­fore the fi­nal bill was an­nounced.

Con­gress passed only one of the dozen an­nual spend­ing bills it is sup­posed to ap­prove each year, leav­ing most agen­cies run­ning on stop­gap fund­ing since Oct. 1, which was the start of the fis­cal year. Repub­li­cans, who had con­trol of both cham­bers for the last two years, had vowed to fix the bud­get process, but feud­ing with their own con­ser­va­tives cou­pled with bat­tles with Democrats ham­strung ef­forts this year.

Ini­tially GOP lead­ers had wanted the in­terim bill to last un­til March 30, or half­way through the fis­cal year. But an ex­pected crowded sched­ule in the Se­nate, which will have to vote on nom­i­nees for the new Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion as well as, per­haps, a Supreme Court pick, forces a re­think.

“The date that we have in this bill was largely to ac­com­mo­date the Se­nate’s crowded sched­ule,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Tues­day morn­ing.

Repub­li­cans put off a num­ber of thorny fights they may have oth­er­wise pushed this year, fig­ur­ing they could wait un­til Mr. Trump takes of­fice and they have a part­ner in the White House.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee Chair­man Rep. Hal Rogers called a stop­gap spend­ing bill un­veiled Tues­day “just a Band-Aid, but a crit­i­cal one.”

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