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