House approves first batch of spending bills; sends to Trump.
With more deals on table, funding process at best rate since 2007
The House approved the first batch of 2019 spending bills Thursday and shipped the legislation to President Trump to sign, keeping Congress on track for its best annual funding process in decades.
Lawmakers are determined to avoid a shutdown at the end of this month, and vowed this week’s package of three bills on the Energy Department, water infrastructure, veterans affairs, military construction and Capitol Hill operations will quickly be joined by others.
Indeed, hours after the House vote negotiators announced they’d finished writing a final bill to fund the Pentagon and Labor, Education and Health departments, which together account for the lion’s share of annual discretionary spending.
The House vote was 377-20 to approve the first package. The Senate had approved it Wednesday on a 92-5 vote.
“This represents a return to our most basic responsibility around here, passing appropriation bills,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said. “This is the first time since 2007 that the House and the Senate will send multiple appropriation measures to the president’s desk on time.”
But some of Mr. Ryan’s conservative members say the next packages could be tougher lifts if Republican priorities continue to get jettisoned during negotiations with the Senate.
Rep. Mark Walker, a leading conservative, said conservative priorities were “shut out across the board” on the three-bill package and that members could withhold their votes in the next round if there’s a similar result.
“Conservatives are looking for the conferenced legislation to reflect conservative policy riders such as the ones in the House bill,” the North Carolina Republican said.
But Mr. Ryan and his lieutenants say there’s plenty for conservatives to like in the bills — notably a boost in spending for veterans affairs and the military.
Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the labor, health, and education spending subcommittee, said he would have loved to include policy riders that zero out funding for hotbutton items like abortion providers, but that would have violated Senate leaders’ stated pledge to set those divisive fights aside to try to streamline the spending process this year.
“If we want to get the defense package done, which I think was probably the highest Republican priority, you had to be willing to deal,” Mr. Cole said. “It’s very hard to get a rider if there’s nothing to trade with, and there was nothing to trade on the other side.”
The next test could come on the defense-social services-education bill.
A third package of bills to cover agriculture, environmental, financial services, and transportation programs is also in the works.
There would still have to be a shortterm stopgap “continuing resolution” to fund departments like homeland security that have fallen through the cracks in the current negotiations. That stopgap bill would last through early December, lawmakers said Thursday.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby said he hopes the defense legislation can get a vote in the Senate next week. The House is out all week, but returns the final week of the fiscal year, just ahead of the Sept. 30 funding deadline.
“We got time,” Mr. Shelby said. “I didn’t say we had a lot of time.”
Conservatives said they want to speed up some of the fights, including the border wall funding battle that’s forced leaders to punt the homeland security bill into the new fiscal year.
GOP leaders say if Congress can pass nine of 12 annual spending bills by the end of the month, that would cover about 90 percent of the federal government’s discretionary budget next year.
Democrats, though, warned they have objections to some of the legislative language the GOP wants to include in the agriculture and environmental package.
“House Republicans must drop their insistence on poison pill riders that threaten our air and water and weaken protections for American consumers,” said Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. “Until that happens, we will be forced to keep the important domestic priorities in these bills in a holding pattern.”
The White House has committed to sign the first package of bills, but hasn’t said what it would do on the others.
Mr. Trump has been itching for a shutdown fight over the border wall. But his threats are defused somewhat if lawmakers can get him to sign the rest of the bills, which would fund most of the government through next September.
Mr. Cole said attaching the shortterm package to the defense and labor spending should make it more difficult for Mr. Trump to veto the broader measure because the consequences would be more dire.
“I would hope the president doesn’t seriously entertain a veto,” he said.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (left), House Speaker Paul Ryan (middle), and Majority Whip Steve Scalise say there’s plenty for conservatives to like in the 2019 spending bills.
“If we want to get the defense package done, which I think was probably the highest Republican priority, you had to be willing to deal,” Rep. Tom Cole said. “It’s very hard to get a rider if there’s nothing to trade with, and there was nothing to trade on the other