House appropriators advanced a measure Thursday to fund the Justice and Commerce departments, along with science agencies, after endorsing a GOP gun proposal and sidelining a series of Democratic firearm policy amendments.
The draft fiscal 2015 bill would provide $51.2 billion in discretionary funds, a $398 million decrease from currently enacted spending levels. The Appropriations Committee approved the measure by voice vote.
Panel members earlier voted 29-18 to add a proposal from Texas Republican John Carter to withhold funding for efforts to make gun dealers inform the Justice Department when they sell multiple rifles or shotguns to the same person.
The proposal aims to stymie an Obama administration requirement that gun dealers in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas notify the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when they sell two or more of certain high-powered long guns to the same buyer within five days.
The administration says the policy is designed to counter violence along the Southwestern border, but many gun rights advocates view it as a veiled form of government gun registration.
On Thursday, Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., called the policy “a prudent thing we can do” to counter straw purchasers, a term for those who buy weapons for others not legally allowed to do so themselves. But Carter said the policy amounts to discrimination against those living in the region.
Meanwhile, the panel rejected 18-29 a proposal from Mike Quigley to repeal language in a fiscal 2013 appropriations law (PL 113-6) that would permanently block funds for any federal rule requiring gun dealers to conduct physical inventories.
The existing funding ban prevents the ATF from “effectively identifying lost or stolen guns,” Quigley, D-Ill., said, calling his proposal “one small step” toward keeping guns away from dangerous individuals.
Co-sponsor Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., called the ban a “dangerous policy rider” that “needlessly endangers public safety.”
But Carter argued the proposal would burden small businesses.
Appropriators also rejected 18-29 a James P. Moran, D-Va., amendment to require gun dealers to conduct background checks on their prospective employees.
His proposal, Moran said, would apply the “same process that any gun purchaser goes through” to those selling firearms.
Democrats withdrew two other gun-related policy amendments: one from Moran to strip bill language that would block funding for implementation of an international arms trade treaty unless the Senate ratifies the proposal, and a Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., amendment to give the attorney general more leeway to deny gun transfers to buyers with ties to terrorism.
Marijuana and Law Enforcement Grants
On an issue likely to resurface on the House floor, the committee debated a Sam Farr amendment to bar the Justice Department from using its funding to prosecute medical marijuana users who are abiding by their state’s law.
The California Democrat said it is time to have an “adult conversation” about marijuana, urging the Food and Drug Administration to study the substance’s medical benefits.
Andy Harris, R-Md., an anesthesiologist, opposed the amendment, saying that the government has a “systematic way” of looking at controlled substances and that the amendment would make an exception for marijuana.
Farr ultimately withdrew his amendment, but the proposal is expected to come up again when the spending bill reaches the full House.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.