Congress

House passes temporary funding bill; Senate vote next week

The vote punts final decisions on fiscal 2020 to just before the Thanksgiving recess

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., departs from a press conference at the Capitol in Washington on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. The House passed an interim funding bill Thursday afternoon, extending appropriations through Nov. 21. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

The House passed a stopgap spending bill that would continue government funding until Nov. 21, after spending the last few days arguing over aid to farmers caught up in the U.S.-China trade war.

The 301-123 tally saw just three Democrats vote ‘no’ and 76 Republicans supporting the measure. The strong bipartisan showing bodes well for quick Senate passage of the continuing resolution next week.

[House stopgap bill would fund farm payments, health programs]

Only a handful of legislative days remain before current government funding expires Sept. 30. President Donald Trump’s signature would punt final decisions on fiscal 2020 spending to just before Thanksgiving, though there’s always a chance another extension will be necessary.

Conservative Republicans panned the measure, with Texas Rep. Chip Roy calling it “horrendous” in a statement after the vote. He said it would extend “broken” federal programs and would “hamstring our military” by providing money only for 51 days.

Trump hasn’t made any public comments, though he’s expected to sign the measure; nonetheless the House vote indicates a veto-proof majority.

Top Senate Appropriations Democrat Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont praised the House bill at a panel markup Thursday morning.

“It’s a good bill,” Leahy said. “We’ve come to bipartisan resolution on it. It gives us seven weeks to get our work done.”

Last-minute disagreements on the temporary spending bill largely related to certain agriculture related payouts for tariff-affected farmers and ranchers had delayed work on the bill for several days. But lawmakers ultimately agreed on billions of dollars more to support agricultural losses that were incurred as a result of President Donald Trump’s trade war with China and other countries.

Specialty crop producers would also benefit from a waiver of certain matching fund requirements for research grants in a new section added to the bill. Sugar beet processors would get some help as well, as would hemp growers, a favorite of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

A stopgap is needed because none of the dozen regular spending bills have become law yet. Congressional leaders and the White House didn’t agree on topline fiscal 2020 funding caps until late July (PL 116-37), right before heading home for the August recess.

The Senate Appropriations Committee didn’t start work on its own bills until last week, that panel’s latest start in 32 years — and it’s been a rocky one marked by unusual partisan disagreements over funding allocations and policy riders. The House passed 10 of its 12 bills, but at funding levels that hadn’t been agreed to by Republicans or the White House.

“It is unfortunate that we are in this situation and have to pass this CR to keep the government open, but we cannot afford an unnecessary and costly shutdown,” House Appropriations ranking member Kay Granger, R-Texas, said on the floor, urging support for the bill.

Medicaid, Export-Import Bank

The 43-page stopgap contained numerous add-ons giving more funding flexibility to certain agencies and extending authorizing law:

  • A package of health care-related extensions of programs funding community health centers, teaching hospitals as well as more funding under Medicaid for U.S. territories.
  • A faster spending rate for the Department of Veterans Affairs for programs serving Blue Water Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Lawmakers also increased a cap on the number of enrollees in the World Trade Center health program for first responders on Sept. 11, 2001.
  • Continued authority through the length of the stopgap for the National Flood Insurance Program, Export-Import Bank, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and higher education programs.
  • Higher spending for certain programs including more money for the Census Bureau to prepare for its decennial count in 2020, and the Secret Service’s ramped-up security as presidential candidates require additional protection.
  • House Democrats ignored many of the add-ons the White House had requested earlier this summer in a 21-page list of “anomalies” that would modify the terms of a continuing resolution’s policy or normal spending levels. Ignored requests included expanded authority for building border wall sections beyond the Rio Grande Valley and funding to build a pavilion at the 2020 Dubai World Expo, an activity that’s barred under current law.

The package would reimburse the Commodity Credit Corporation for trade relief and other farm payments made as of Sept. 17, so the agency doesn’t breach its $30 billion borrowing cap as it continues to send checks to farmers and ranchers.

In order to address Democrats’ concerns about the distribution of payments, the final language would require Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, by Oct. 31, to submit a report to lawmakers itemizing payments made under the program since it started up last year, and projections for next year. The report is to include information on payments broken out by commodity and specialty crop — such as cherries, grapes, cranberries and various types of nuts. State-by-state information would be required as well.

The provision would provide the CCC with roughly $20.5 billion to make more payments under the so-called Market Facilitation program, congressional aides said, shy of the $30 billion sought by the White House. 

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