- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2019

The border wall dominated the just-concluded Capitol Hill spending fight, but in the end that was less than 1 percent of the total spending in the $333 billion bill, and most lawmakers who backed it found plenty of other things to like.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle cheered money for the Coast Guard’s first new heavy icebreaker in four decades, saying America is losing the ice-breaker race with Russia, which has more than 40.

“This is critical to our homeland security,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia Republican.

Others were eager to see more than $500 million to help combat the opioid epidemic, and $550 million for a program in the Department of Agriculture intended to expand broadband access to rural Americans.

Policy-wise, there’s language that blocks the Justice Department from interfering with states’ medical marijuana laws, and a ban on using the money to inspect facilities used to slaughter horses for human consumption — effectively prohibiting the practice.

There’s money at the Justice Department to hire more immigration judges, and nearly $900 million to continue construction on several polar satellites, which provide the bulk of the data the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration uses to predict the weather.

Democrats said that investment will save money in the long run.

“Last year, the United States experienced 16 separate weather and climate disasters that cost more than $1 billion each, tying the single year record,” said a summary of the legislation prepared by the office of Sen. Patrick Leahy, Senate Democrats’ chief negotiator. “These storms would have cost far more and posed even greater threats to human safety without sufficient warning.”

For the Interior Department, there is $435 million for a Land and Water Conservation Fund that President Trump had cut funding for in his budget request, along with nearly $4 billion for wildland fire management.

The package also renames a provision in last year’s $1.3 trillion “omnibus” spending bill intended to bolster wildfire suppression and forest management efforts after the late Stephen Sepp, a longtime House Appropriations Committee staff member who passed away in June.

Rep. Mike Simpson, Idaho Republican, said that section was included “with sadness.” But he said without Sepp’s work, the language never would have gotten into last year’s bill.

“He helped solve a problem which threatened the lives and property of people in the west and all over the country,” Mr. Simpson said.

The financial services section of the package provides for a 1.9 percent pay increase for federal civilian employees, along with slight funding boosts for national anti-drug programs and U.S. courts.

East Coast lawmakers touted the $1.9 billion for Amtrak included in the bill that funds transportation and housing programs. There is also additional money in that section to combat youth homelessness and reduce the prevalence of lead-based paint in lower-income housing.

For the State Department and foreign operations, lawmakers touted the $3.3 billion in assistance for Israel. The package also includes more than $6 billion for embassy security and close to $300 million to assist U.S. allies in Europe in trying to counter Russian “influence and aggression.”

When it comes to homeland security, the focus of most of the arguing, lawmakers said there was plenty beyond the controversial $1.375 billion for border wall and funding for about 45,000 ICE detention beds.

One key addition is $1 million to cut Carrizo cane that grows along the border. Border Patrol agents say the cane grows so high that it can hide groups of migrants.

“Cameras, sensors don’t work it’s so thick. And it’s all about the river. Border patrol — they couldn’t go. They have to cut it,” Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat who helped negotiate the final deal, told reporters after briefing his colleagues on the need for action.

Left out of the bill were some big-ticket items that one side or the other had fought to include.

Democrats refused to include an extension of the Violence Against Women Act, saying they wanted to revisit it in coming months and didn’t want to remove the urgency by passing a short-term extension.

That left Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell fuming and his office accusing Democrats of “partisan games.”

The package also does not nullify the Trump administration’s so-called “Mexico City Policy,” which bars federal money from going to overseas groups that promote or perform abortions.

Some House Democrats had pushed for language to overturn the policy.

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