Congress

Draft stopgap would protect Ukraine aid, deny wall flexibility

Draft CR doesn’t grant administration request to use CBP funds to build sections of southern border wall outside of Rio Grande Valley Sector

North Carolina Highway 12 leading onto Hatteras Island is covered with sand after Hurricane Dorian hit the area on Sept. 6. The draft stopgap spending bill being circulated by Democrats would accommodate a White House request to speed up disaster relief spending for Dorian cleanup as other tropical disturbances still threaten. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The measure would also accommodate a White House request to allow an increased rate of disaster relief spending as cleanup from Hurricane Dorian continues and other tropical disturbances still threaten

House Democrats are circulating a draft stopgap spending bill to fund government agencies beyond the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year that would prevent the White House from blocking military assistance to Ukraine and money for a variety of foreign aid-related programs.

The draft continuing resolution, obtained by CQ Roll Call, would on Sept. 30 immediately free up the remainder of the $250 million appropriated for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative in the fiscal 2019 Defense spending law and extend its availability for another year.

Similar language is included for funding in eight State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development accounts the White House over the summer had temporarily frozen in advance of possible rescission, or cancellation. President Donald Trump decided not to cancel the money, but his Office of Management and Budget has been squeezing the obligation of remaining funds by apportioning them on a weekly basis, which Democratic aides said would ultimately mean some of the money can’t be spent.

The draft stopgap bill wouldn’t grant the administration’s request to use Customs and Border Protection funds to build sections of southern border wall outside of the Rio Grande Valley Sector in Texas. Nor would it provide additional funds to allow the U.S. Marshals Service to detain a greater number of undocumented immigrants.

House Democrats are also denying the White House’s request to increase borrowing authority for the Commodity Credit Corp. to reimburse farmers facing losses due to the administration's trade war with China. At the same time, more funding sought to help the U.S. Trade Representative’s office process exclusions from tariffs leveled at Chinese goods would not be included. But lawmakers would add language enabling the International Trade Commission to get its review process up and running for the next miscellaneous tariff bill, with numerous temporary duty suspensions expiring at the end of 2020.

The measure also wouldn’t give NASA extra funding to accelerate plans to return to the moon during Trump’s first term. Money to build a U.S. pavilion at next year’s world expo in Dubai, expected to feature an exhibit about space travel to Mars, wouldn’t be included in the draft bill either.

Blank space

There’s a blank space for the date on which the new 26-page stopgap measure would expire in the draft circulated among lawmakers Tuesday night. Evan Hollander, a spokesman for House Appropriations Committee Democrats, said the end date would be Nov. 21. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Maryland, has said he will bring up the CR for a House vote next week.

The stopgap is necessary because lawmakers and the White House haven’t yet agreed on any of the dozen spending bills for fiscal 2020. The House got an early jump, but Democrats in that chamber were operating under their own spending assumptions. Senate Republicans waited until after the bipartisan budget pact was struck in July, but they are still bickering with Democrats over subcommittee allocations and “poison pill” policy riders that the deal was supposed to preclude except in limited circumstances.

“With the Senate appropriations process in disarray over Republican plans to fund a border wall at the expense of education and health care, it’s obvious that we need a continuing resolution to keep the government open,” Hollander said in a statement. “House Democrats have taken the lead by circulating a clean continuing resolution that provides certainty for families and businesses while allowing time to negotiate thorny political issues. Extending government funding through Nov. 21 is the responsible way forward and we look forward to passing this CR next week.”

Extra funding for the 2020 census, Secret Service, Indian Health Service staffing at two new facilities in Oklahoma and California, and Ebola outbreak response in Africa are among the add-ons Democrats have agreed to in the preliminary draft, similar to “anomalies” requested by the White House in a 21-page document transmitted to Congress earlier this summer.

The measure would also accommodate a White House request to allow an increased rate of disaster relief spending as cleanup from Hurricane Dorian continues and other tropical disturbances still threaten, while adding an increased rate of funding for Small Business Administration disaster loans sought by administration officials. More funding for the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which can block such transactions on national security grounds, would also be included.

But additional funds for the White House’s HIV/AIDS eradication initiative wouldn’t be included, at least in this initial stopgap measure, though that could also serve to put pressure on the administration to quickly come to the table on regular fiscal 2020 domestic spending bills.

The draft CR would also temporarily extend a number of lapsing authorizations for its yet-to-be-determined duration. That includes the Export-Import Bank, Higher Education Act, National Flood Insurance Program and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The document also contains many of the standard add-ons that are needed to keep programs running at normal levels when lawmakers choose to put spending on autopilot from the previous fiscal year, such as a restriction on new project starts at the Defense Department. Another example of common language included in the draft stopgap is an increased rate for operations for certain mandatory programs and entitlements such as Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps. The draft language also allows the District of Columbia to spend local taxes and other funds from non-federal sources at its own rates pursuant to local budget laws, which has been common in past stopgaps.

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