Bill keeps govern­ment open dur­ing tran­si­tion

Trump team to set new plans in 2017

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN DINAN AND TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Democrats’ anger pe­tered out Thurs­day as the House passed a stop­gap spend­ing bill to keep the govern­ment open for nearly five more months, paving the way for Congress to wrap up and head home to pre­pare for a change of power in the White House next year.

The Se­nate gave fi­nal ap­proval to an an­nual de­fense pol­icy bill that con­tin­ues to tie Pres­i­dent Obama’s hands on clos­ing Guan­tanamo Bay, of­fi­cially end­ing any last chance he had of mak­ing good on his prom­ise to shut­ter the ter­ror­ist prison be­fore he leaves of­fice.

Se­na­tors must still ap­prove the fi­nal spend­ing deal, but af­ter it was ap­proved 326-96 in the House, the ques­tion is when, not if, the up­per cham­ber will give it a fi­nal OK.

Congress is racing a Fri­day dead­line, though. Cur­rent fund­ing runs out at mid­night, and Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Demo­crat, was threat­en­ing a de­lay, hop­ing for a long-term deal on health and pen­sion ben­e­fits for min­ers.

With House law­mak­ers gone for the year, how­ever, GOP lead­ers said the

op­tions were ei­ther pass the bill as is or else force a par­tial govern­ment shut­down.

Repub­li­cans, who have been blamed for past shut­down show­downs, said this time it’s all on Democrats’ shoul­ders.

“Our friends across the aisle need to face up to the re­al­ity that if they some­how pre­vent us from pass­ing this con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion, it will be on their hands,” Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Repub­li­can, said. “So I hope they’ll re­con­sider, be­cause they’re not go­ing to be able to achieve the goal that they are seek­ing.”

Cal­i­for­nia’s two Demo­cratic se­na­tors, mean­while, are feud­ing over han­dling of drought-re­lief mea­sures in a sep­a­rate wa­ter projects bill. That bill also cleared the House Thurs­day, on a lop­sided 360-61 vote.

The de­fense bill cleared the Se­nate 92-7 — a ve­to­proof ma­jor­ity sim­i­lar to the mar­gin the mea­sure won in the House.

There was no in­di­ca­tion such a veto was in the off­ing, but the bill does con­strain Mr. Obama in ways he has ob­jected to.

Eight years af­ter vow­ing to close down the de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity for ter­ror­ism sus­pects at Guan­tanamo, Mr. Obama is once again con­fronted with leg­isla­tive lan­guage that pre­vents him from bring­ing any of the re­main­ing 59 de­tainees to the U.S.

At the White House, press sec­re­tary Josh Earnest said the pres­i­dent will still try to ship as many de­tainees as he can to other coun­tries will­ing to take them — but con­ceded the ad­min­is­tra­tion can’t over­come “ob­sta­cles” to clos­ing Guan­tanamo that have been en­acted by Congress.

“The pol­i­tics of this are po­tent,” he said. “Congress, in re­sponse to those pol­i­tics, has made this a very dif­fi­cult task.”

When Mr. Obama took of­fice there were more than 200 de­tainees, and he’s whit­tled the num­ber down by find­ing will­ing tak­ers for those de­tainees who aren’t go­ing to be charged, but are no longer deemed dan­ger­ous enough to need to hold.

Con­ser­va­tives had ini­tially planned to use the de­fense bill to try to at­tain a num­ber of other goals, in­clud­ing rolling back a 2014 Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­ec­u­tive or­der that bans fed­eral con­trac­tors from job dis­crim­i­na­tion based on sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.

But those fights were dropped as Repub­li­cans fig­ured they would wait and look to a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to change the poli­cies uni­lat­er­ally.

Sim­i­larly, the spend­ing bill would keep govern­ment open un­til April 28, buy­ing enough time for Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump to get his team up and run­ning be­fore Congress re­sumes its bud­get fights.

The leg­is­la­tion, known in Capi­tol-speak as a “con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion,” 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.

It also pro­vides $4.1 bil­lion in new dis­as­ter re­lief and re­con­struc­tion money to take care of dam­age from hur­ri­canes, floods and se­vere drought, plus $170 mil­lion to ad­dress drink­ing wa­ter prob­lems, in­clud­ing the lead-tainted wa­ter in Flint, Michigan.

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.

The House-passed bill in­cluded a con­tro­ver­sial pro­vi­sion that would clear the way for re­tired Ma­rine Corps Gen. James N. Mat­tis to be Mr. Trump’s 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.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey, New York Demo­crat and rank­ing mem­ber on the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, said the mea­sure amounted to a sneaky end run by Repub­li­cans.

“Civil­ian lead­er­ship of the mil­i­tary is a be­drock prin­ci­ple of our democ­racy,” she said, “and any new stan­dard de­serves full de­bate by the Congress.”

House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi voted against the spend­ing bill, say­ing it stiffed too many Demo­cratic pri­or­i­ties — but most of her troops de­fected, join­ing Repub­li­cans to clear the mea­sure, then head­ing for home.

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