House sends four spending bills to Senate, defying Trump veto threat

Republicans say package busts budget caps deal and contains numerous ‘poison pills’

House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey and North Caroline Rep. David Price talk before a subcommittee hearing on July 8. The House passed its first batch of fiscal 2021 spending bills Friday.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey and North Caroline Rep. David Price talk before a subcommittee hearing on July 8. The House passed its first batch of fiscal 2021 spending bills Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted July 24, 2020 at 2:41pm

The House passed its first batch of appropriations bills Friday after a truncated process with big batches of en bloc amendment votes, foreshadowing a similar whirlwind of activity on the floor next week when the chamber takes up a massive seven-bill bundle.

The House voted 224-189 to approve a $259.5 billion four-bill measure consisting of the Agriculture, Interior-Environment, Military Construction-VA and State-Foreign Operations bills. The package includes $37.5 billion in emergency spending that Republicans and the White House contend busts the budget caps deal reached last summer and contains numerous policy riders they labeled “poison pills.”

For example, the 13-page White House veto threat delivered Thursday took issue with provisions that would, among others:

  • Overturn a Trump administration ban on funds for overseas groups that perform or promote abortions. 
  • Prevent the administration from shuttering Peace Corps activities in China.
  • Block food stamp restrictions for able-bodied adults without children.
  • Require the National Park Service to take down plaques, statues and other items commemorating the Confederacy, and rename military bases named for Confederate soldiers.
  • Block the White House from shifting funds from military construction projects to President Donald Trump’s prized border wall project.

“Instead of building consensus with members on our side of the aisle, these bills contain policy and funding proposals that appear to have been dictated from the top down,” House Appropriations ranking member Kay Granger, R-Texas, said Thursday during floor debate.

In the last series of votes Friday, the House rejected GOP amendments that would have reduced spending at the Interior Department and EPA. Lawmakers also shot down an attempt from Republicans to put Democrats on record against boosting funds to counter Chinese government influence around the world.

The GOP motion to recommit, a procedural move that would have had the same effect as an amendment, would have shifted $102.5 million from the foreign aid account that funds economic support initiatives to the account that funds anti-poverty and democracy-building activities.

Republicans said the intent was to take the money out of $500 million set aside for “a dedicated international” fund to help developing nations reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund. Instead, the $102.5 million would be shifted to a newly established “Countering Chinese Influence Fund,” which was funded at “not less than” $300 million in fiscal 2020.

The GOP motion didn’t specify which pot of economic support money — one of the four accounts that finance the Countering Chinese Influence Fund — would be targeted, however.

Democrats initially proposed the lower figure for fiscal 2021 in their nonbinding committee report, but didn’t set a floor or a ceiling in the bill text. The bill language simply states that amounts “may be made available” for the fund, which could be more or less than the $197.5 million set aside in the committee report.

The House adopted an amendment Thursday from Foreign Affairs ranking member Michael McCaul, R-Texas, to shift $25 million to the Countering Chinese Influence Fund.

The House on Friday voted 233-176 to adopt an amendment from several Democrats that would cut off funding for the EPA to finish and implement a regulation it proposed in April, when it decided not to require more stringent air standards for fine particulate matter, sometimes referred to as soot. 

Democrats argued that not implementing stricter soot standards is a disservice to Americans and would disproportionally affect communities of color.

“Every person deserves to breathe clean air,” Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., argued Thursday evening. “But time and time again the administration has chosen to ignore the latest public health science allowing our air to remain polluted and our communities to be less safe.”  

GOP lawmakers argued the EPA’s review of the current standard uses solid science and its process of reviewing more than 66,000 public comments on the proposed rule should be allowed to continue unimpeded by Congress. “There are already too many states and counties struggling to meet the current standards,” said Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, the ranking member on the Interior-Environment Subcommittee.

Debate on the spending package took place Thursday before the House voted to adopt more than 100 amendments to the package and reject 16 through en bloc voting.

The four House bills will now go to the Senate where they are likely to sit until after the November election at the earliest.

That chamber’s annual funding process has been at a standstill for more than a month after Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., announced he wouldn’t hold markups over a disagreement about which amendments Democrats could offer.

That chamber’s ongoing stalemate won’t slow down House Democrats, who plan to debate and vote on seven more appropriations bills worth nearly $1.37 trillion next week. House Democrats, however, do have some issues of their own to sort out.

The annual Legislative Branch funding bill isn’t in that package, and it’s unclear if leaders will bring it to the floor later this year as a stand-alone bill. There’s also a possibility Democratic leaders pull the Homeland Security bill from the package they are set to debate next week, over opposition from the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Progressives as well as other lawmakers have concerns about funding levels for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and other agencies housed in the Department of Homeland Security. There’s also broad frustration about the Trump administration’s decision to send federal officers, dressed in military-style uniforms, to Portland and Chicago to confront mostly peaceful protestors.

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Benjamin J. Hulac contributed to this report.