- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2018

The House approved a $1.3 trillion spending bill Thursday to fund the government for the rest of fiscal year 2018 and the Senate followed suit early Friday morning, beating the shutdown deadline and leaving Republicans and Democrats to fight over credit and blame.

The bill was a testament to what Congress could do when both sides agreed to open the federal checkbook, with the GOP touting the biggest cash infusion for the military in 15 years, and Democrats saying they won billions of dollars in new spending on health care, education and infrastructure despite being largely shut out of power in Washington, D.C.

The White House said President Trump will sign the bill — even though he lamented he had to “waste money on Dem giveaways” to get the $80 billion in funding increases for the military and a first down payment on a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

“Is it perfect? No. Is it exactly what we asked for in the budget? No. Were we ever going to get that? No, that’s not how the process works,” said White House budget director Mick Mulvaney.

House lawmakers voted 256-167 to approve the bill, with 145 Republicans and 111 Democrats in favor and 90 Republicans and 77 Democrats opposed.

The Senate then voted 65-32 in favor of the bill.

In both cases, opposition was drawn from the ideological ends of the parties, with the most conservative Republicans and most liberal Democrats voting against the bill.

One thing most lawmakers agreed on was the ridiculous process, which saw the House vote on a 2,232-page bill around noon on Thursday, just 16 hours after the text had been released. That broke GOP rules that required three days’ time between a bill’s introduction and a vote.

The Senate, meanwhile, voted just after midnight Friday morning, speeding the vote. One senator said they compressed the schedule so lawmakers could make international flights planned for the beginning of a two-week spring break.

“This is ridiculous. It’s juvenile,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican.

The complaints were bipartisan.

“I have not read the bill,” House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, admitted in a fiery floor speech. “The only person who could read this bill is the supercomputers.”

He voted against the measure, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi backed it.

Republican leaders insisted that while lawmakers may not have had a chance to read this version of the bill, it was similar to legislation they’d voted on last year.

They also defended the spending choices made, pushing back against Mr. Trump’s complaints of “waste.”

“We’ve worked to make sure not a dollar is wasted,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen said Wednesday night as he defended the massive bill before the House Rules Committee.

The Pentagon gets about $700 billion in the bill. It includes a 2.4 percent military pay increase, the largest in eight years, as well as nearly $150 billion to replace and upgrade equipment, including 14 Navy ships, more than 360 aircraft and helicopters, and more than 145 fighting vehicles.

Republican leaders have said that the spending caps President Obama and Congress agreed to in 2011 have hollowed out the military to the point where more military members are dying because of training and readiness issues than from combat.

“The threat of American military decline is now coming to an end,” said House Speaker Paul D. Ryan. “That is a promise that we made, along with this president, to the American people. And it is a promise that we are keeping today, and we’re pleased to do so.”

The measure also gives a $63 billion boost to non-defense discretionary spending, bringing those levels to about $600 billion in 2018.

Democrats chose to highlight those gains, pointing to items like a $3 billion increase in funds to fight the opioid epidemic, $18 billion for infrastructure, $380 million for state grants to protect election systems from cyber attacks, and $600 million for rural broadband.

“It’s a funny thing,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “We’re able to accomplish more in the minority than we were when we had the presidency or even were in the majority.”

The higher spending levels were agreed to in a February budget deal, which gave lawmakers six weeks to add more than $140 billion in new money to existing spending plans.

Usually, spending taxpayers’ money is a unifying activity for Congress. But lawmakers got into bitter disputes over policy decisions, such as whether to ban money from going to Planned Parenthood, whether to keep sending grant money to sanctuary cities, how much to pay for Mr. Trump’s border wall and what to do about illegal immigrant “Dreamers.”

Mr. Frelinghuysen and other House and Senate appropriators crafted the package, but the big ideological battles were settled by Mr. Ryan, Mr. Schumer, Mrs. Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Many conservative Republicans said the bill fell short on Mr. Trump’s promises, ceding ground on issues like abortion, guns, and immigration as well as accepting a massive boost in deficits.

“This is wrong. This is not the limited government conservatism our voters demand. Our constituents — our employers — deserve better,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

The bill allocates $1.6 billion for border security measures that the president wanted, but both sides disputed exactly how much would be dedicated to building the wall itself.

Democrats complained that the bill didn’t offer new protections to Dreamers who benefit from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

“It is indefensible for Congress to pass a spending bill that not only leaves Dreamers without permanent protections but also funds their deportations and those of immigrants with deep ties to their communities,” the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said in urging its members to vote “no.”

With the midterm election season already under way, the “omnibus” spending bill could be one of the the last major pieces of legislation Congress clears this year, and lawmakers raced to attach other legislative priorities as well.

The bill includes a gun-related measure incentivizing states and federal agencies to submit more of their records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which flags people like felons and domestic abusers who are banned from buying guns.

The legislation also retains a longstanding ban on federal health agencies using money to advocate or promote gun control, but clarifies that they can still conduct research into the causes of gun violence — another minor win for gun control advocates who argue the ban has still had a chilling effect on research.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who chairs a state/foreign operations spending subcommittee, also secured language he had been pushing for several years that ends federal money for the Palestinian Authority until it clearly demonstrates it has stopped funding terrorist activities.


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