Politics

Rules Readies Financial Services, Interior-Environment Bill

McHenry files only GOP leadership amendment

Chief Deputy Whip Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., removes his bow tie as he walks down the House steps after the final vote of the week on Thursday, March 22, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Rules Committee recommended a rule Monday that would allow 87 amendments to be heard when the House turns to floor debate of the combined fiscal 2019 Interior-Environment and Financial Services spending bill this week.

Among the amendments will be a Republican provision to bar the U.S. Postal Service from expanding its offering of banking services. But an amendment to provide $380 million in grant funding to states to beef up election security, pushed repeatedly by Democrats citing Russian meddling in the 2016 election, didn’t make the cut.

The amendments made in order include additional environmental policy riders sure to earn Democrats’ scorn over efforts to limit the federal government’s ability to regulate air pollutants like ozone and methane as well as additional Endangered Species Act exemptions. Similar controversial policy riders have bogged down the Interior-Environment spending bill in years past.

The Rules Committee voted 8-2 Monday to approve a structured rule. It would make in order 70 amendments for the Interior-Environment section of the bill and 17 for the Financial Services portion.

The combined fiscal 2019 bill — which will come to the floor under the Interior-Environment bill number — totals $58.7 billion in appropriations. Both components of the House bill would essentially appropriate the same amount in fiscal 2019 that was appropriated in fiscal 2018. The Interior-Environment component would provide $35.3 billion, and the Financial Services and General Government portion would provide $23.4 billion.

Chief Deputy Whip Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., was the only member of House GOP leadership to file an amendment. The committee recommended making it in order. McHenry is proposing an amendment that would bar the U.S. Postal Service from expanding its offering of financial services, now limited largely to money orders and international money transfers.

Some Democrats and progressive groups back the Postal Service’s branching out into banking as a way to shore up the organization’s financial strength and to deliver banking services to poor customers who often rely on payday lenders for emergency funding.

It’s been an issue since 2014, when the inspector general for the Postal Service published a report suggesting the agency could expand into prepaid cards, savings products and small-dollar loans.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., the Rules Committee’s ranking member, made a pitch for an amendment to repeat fiscal 2018’s $380 million in funding for Election Assistance Commission grants. The fiscal 2019 bill would cut the program’s budget to zero.

“Is anyone paying attention to what’s going on?” McGovern asked after blasting President Donald Trump for comments he made in Helsinki Monday downplaying allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. U.S. intelligence agencies have alleged Russia sought to influence the election. The 2018 funding of grants to states was partly in response to such concerns.

The amendment’s author, House Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Mike Quigley, D-Ill., also pushed for a floor vote on the measure.

“Tweets aren’t enough,” Quigley said of some GOP criticism of Trump’s comments in Helsinki. “The Russians will be back. Perhaps they never left.”

Democrats filed amendments that would overturn provisions that would keep the District of Columbia from enforcing certain local laws, restore the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 net neutrality rule, and bar federal funds from being spent at properties owned by Trump.

None of those amendments were recommended by the committee’s rule.

An amendment that was made in order calls for a $100,000 Treasury Department study of the impact of pyrrhotite-tainted concrete, which is alleged to have caused crumbling concrete in foundations in homes in the Northeast.

Bipartisan groups pushed amendments to restore some of the funding cuts in the House bill to the Community Development Financial Institutions program. Three of those amendments were made in order. But amendments to allow federally insured banks to take deposits from companies in the marijuana industry were rejected.

Interior-Environment

The Interior-Environment spending bill would provide the EPA approximately $8 billion, a $100 million decrease from fiscal 2018 levels. The Interior Department, excluding the Bureau of Reclamation, would get $13.1 billion, a $300 million decrease from fiscal 2018. The White House proposed to spend $6.1 billion on the EPA, almost $2 billion less than the House bill would appropriate, and $10.7 billion for the Interior Department, $2.4 billion less than the House bill.

While Democrats took issue with those cuts, their main concern has centered on the 14 policy riders attached to the bill, including provisions that would affect the implementation of bedrock environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

“These riders undermine clean water and clean air safeguards, jeopardize protection and recovery of vulnerable species, and we even intercede in this bill in the California water issues, which is clearly outside the jurisdiction of this subcommittee,” said the Interior-Environment Appropriations panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota. “These riders do not belong in this bill.”

Of the 178 Interior-Environment amendments, most were filed by Democrats looking to prevent the deregulation efforts of the Trump administration at the Interior Department and the EPA as well as to counteract the GOP policy riders. The 70 amendments made in order include five that would extend endangered species funding limitations against the lesser prairie chicken and two regional species of the meadow jumping mouse, among other species. It also includes additional amendments that would limit the EPA’s authority to regulate ground-level ozone and the Obama-era EPA’s methane regulation.

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