Congress

White House asks Congress to fund Dubai expo, farmer payouts

The request also includes billions for border wall and space defense

A member of the US military unfurls the new US Space Command flag alongside US President Donald Trump, US Vice President Mike Pence (2nd L) and US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper during an event establishing the US Space Command in the Rose Garden of the White House on August 29, 2019. Trump’s administration is seeking authorization within the Pentagon for the Space Development Agency to help purchase equipment, including for the so-called Space Force. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images).

The Trump administration is seeking lawmakers’ assistance with numerous priorities in the inevitable stopgap funding measure needed by Sept. 30, which on its own would simply continue current levels without adjustments for other needs that have arisen over the past year.

The 21-page list of “anomalies” submitted to Capitol Hill last week and obtained by CQ Roll Call includes items ranging from increased borrowing authority for the Agriculture Department to fund payments to farmers taking a financial hit from retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports, to financing construction and operation of a pavilion at the 173-day World Expo starting next October in Dubai.

[Two-year budget pact clears Senate, ending fiscal 2020 impasse]

More money for the administration’s new initiative to combat HIV/AIDS is also part of the request, as is an extra $30 million to combat the most recent outbreak of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The administration also wants authorization to build portions of a southern border wall outside of the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector of southeast Texas, an item almost certain to become a partisan flashpoint this fall. Congress previously funded limited construction in that area, but the White House is now tapping emergency authorities to start building in new areas that lawmakers haven’t approved, largely through Pentagon accounts.

December CR?

Notably, the White House outlined funding needs assuming a continuing resolution that runs through mid-December. Congressional leaders haven’t publicly agreed on the necessity or duration of a continuing resolution that generally keeps spending on autopilot if lawmakers don’t finish spending work in time.

[$960B deficit expected this year, more than $1 trillion next]

Congress has yet to enact any of the 12 spending bills for fiscal 2020, and current government funding expires Sept. 30. It’s increasingly likely a stopgap will be needed given that the Senate has yet to mark up any of its fiscal 2020 spending bills. A House Democratic aide said leaders on that side of the aisle acknowledge the need for a stopgap, but prefer a CR running through late November or early December.

Requests in the anomalies list include:

Farm subsidies. The Commodity Credit Corporation expects to hit its $30 billion statutory borrowing limit sometime between Oct. 1 and mid-December, so officials have requested accelerated funding reimbursement. Additional payouts were promised to farmers affected by Trump’s trade war with China. Without the language, the White House warned, payments to farmers and ranchers would stop as soon as the borrowing limit is reached.

Tariff exclusions. The United States Trade Representative’s office is busier than last year as it works through processing exclusions for a fourth tranche of tariffs on Chinese imports, so the White House has requested a rate for operations of $60 million during a stopgap, or $7 million more than provided this year. With the third tranche of tariff exclusions already generating “significant expenses,” the White House anticipates there wouldn’t be enough resources to carry out exclusions within a reasonable timeframe and “might need to restrict some of its current trade policy activities.”

Moon mission; Space Force. NASA requires increased funding to support the Trump administration’s stated goal to return astronauts to the moon by 2024, the White House document states. Without funding the agency’s Exploration account at an annualized rate of $6.4 billion, NASA won’t be able to fund contracts for “developing human-rated lunar lander systems.” That’s about $1.4 billion more than a “clean” CR would provide. Officials also requested authorization within the Pentagon for the Space Development Agency, which was established in March 2019 to help purchase equipment, including for the so-called Space Force the White House wants to set up.

Border provisions. Aside from the wall funding flexibility request, the White House wants language extended from the border supplemental enacted in July that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to continue to finance activities related to a surge of migrants at the southern border without having to siphon funds from other agency accounts. In addition, White House officials want lawmakers to provide a higher rate of funding for federal prisoner detention at the U.S. Marshals Services. The White House wants $1.9 billion for the Marshals, which would otherwise be funded at $1.55 billion under a CR.

2020 census. In order to avert delays in the decennial population count, White House officials requested an increased rate for operations of $5.9 billion for the Census Bureau’s periodic censuses account. That rate essentially matches what the administration requested for the account in fiscal 2020; the comparable funding for this year, which would otherwise be extended in the CR, is only $3.55 billion.

Disaster relief. Officials requested authorization for DHS to obligate funding from the Disaster Relief Fund at a higher rate than would otherwise be allowed under a stopgap, in the case of a catastrophic event — such as Hurricane Dorian, for instance. The fund currently has about $25 billion remaining and will likely receive another cash infusion in the CR, but the White House wants to make the entire $12.6 billion currently in the pipeline available upfront, rather than parceled out at a daily rate. White House officials also note that current commitments from the Small Business Administration’s disaster loan program require a higher rate of spending. Without an increased rate for operations of $177 million, the White House estimates it would be unable to process requests for disaster loans during the stopgap.

Flood insurance. Officials requested a yearlong extension of the National Flood Insurance Program, which expires on Sept. 30, 2019 under the latest stopgap enacted as part of the June disaster aid supplemental.

Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. Additional funding is needed following the enactment of a 2018 foreign investment authorization bill that was rolled into the fiscal 2019 national defense authorization bill. Generally, the overhaul made changes to how the Treasury Department oversees foreign investments that could pose a risk to national security. Additional funding at a rate for operations of $15 million for Treasury is needed to implement the new policies under the law, administration officials said.

Indian Health Services. Two newly constructed Indian Health Service facilities in Oklahoma and California need increased staffing and operating funds — additional rates for operations of $19 million in total are needed according to the request — or the agency will have to reduce funding for other direct patient care.

Rocket ships, robots

The Dubai World Expo funding request could raise eyebrows on Capitol Hill as lawmakers draft the stopgap measure. The anomalies list requests $30 million to help the State Department finance construction of the U.S. pavilion at the Dubai event starting next month, in preparation for festivities that begin in October 2020. According to the Expo 2020 Dubai website, features of the U.S. exhibit will include: “Personal rocket ships, robot surgeons and more in a pavilion that looks like its moving.”

Such funding is specifically barred under current law. The request asks Congress for language waiving a funding prohibition enacted in the fiscal 2000 omnibus spending law that prevents State from spending any money for capital expenditures or operational expenses associated with U.S. pavilions or exhibits at international exhibitions.

The GOP-controlled Congress in 1999 sought to check the Clinton administration’s use of taxpayer funds for such purposes, which they wrote in the report accompanying the spending law was abused for the 1998 world’s fair in Lisbon, and potentially for the 2000 exposition that was to be held in Hannover, Germany. The idea was to keep such expenses within the purview of private businesses, which stand the most to gain from showcasing their wares at international expositions.

But the Trump administration acknowledges in the anomalies request that the private sector was not coming to the rescue. “Private sector support is inadequate to advance U.S. interests and diplomacy efforts in Expo Dubai 2020,” the document states. “Without the anomaly, the United States would be unable to participate in the first-ever Expo to be held in the Middle East and engage audiences from key strategic regions.”

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