The House approved a $259.5 billion spending package on Friday in Democrats’ opening bid to ward off a government shutdown — a potentially devastating scenario while the nation is embroiled in a pandemic and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
The lower chamber cleared the package in a 224-189 vote. The four-bill minibus pads budgets at the departments of State, Interior, Agriculture, Veterans Affairs and other agencies with billions of additional dollars, while imposing new restrictions on the Trump administration that guarantee it will never become law.
It’s the first appropriations measure to move through any chamber of Congress this year, but lawmakers are almost certainly hurtling toward a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open beyond the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Election year politics will likely sap political will to craft a bipartisan spending deal in the coming weeks, while Congress wrestles with another $1 trillion-plus coronavirus response package to combat creeping unemployment and spiking infections across the country.
The four-bill minibus is the first of two fiscal 2021 funding bundles that House Democrats plan to pass by the end of the month. The House will take up a seven-bill, $1.4 trillion package next week that would fund the Pentagon and the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Homeland Security, Justice, Transportation, Energy and more.
Once both packages are passed, House Democrats will have approved nearly all of their fiscal 2021 appropriations bills, except the measure that funds parts of the Legislative Branch. That bill didn’t include a cost-of-living adjustment for lawmakers, which a number of members believe is crucial to living in D.C. after enduring more than a decade of pay freezes. House leaders could still decide to bring the Legislative Branch bill to the floor as a standalone measure.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus is also pushing to strip the Homeland Security spending bill from the massive $1.4 trillion minibus, with some members loath to fund the agencies charged with implementing the president’s immigration agenda and carrying out paramilitary action in Oregon and Washington state.
But the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is backing the Homeland Security bill and top appropriators have no plans to yank it from the floor. CHC Chair Joaquín Castro (D-Texas), Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) and others have also submitted an amendment that would rein in the administration’s efforts to quell protests in Oregon and Washington.
“We really can’t afford not to pass this,” Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), the chair of the House Homeland Security spending panel, told POLITICO on Friday. “We need to send a very clear message to DHS that this isn’t business as usual. They have to be held accountable and there’s going to be consequences.“
The fiscal 2021 appropriations process is the last for retiring Chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who was the first woman to wield the gavel of the powerful committee.
“My parting request to you is this: Do not succumb to the pervasive partisanship that permeates what can feel like all aspects of our professional — and even sometimes our personal — lives,” she said earlier this month.
“Always strive to use the power of the purse to unlock the full potential of this nation,” she said.
The four-bill measure passed by the House on Friday would provide $65.9 billion for the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and other programs, marking an $8.5 billion increase over current funding or a nearly 15 percent hike. That includes more than $10 billion for global efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Democrats also included $12.5 billion in emergency funding to address rising veterans’ health care costs. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department would receive more than $9 billion and nearly $14 billion, respectively. More than $4 billion would go to rural development programs and more than $3 billion would flow to the Food and Drug Administration.
The package also takes a number of shots at the Trump administration, including provisions that would criticize the president’s “go it alone” approach to foreign aid, restore funding for the World Health Organization, block the administration’s crackdown on food stamps and bar drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The Senate, meanwhile, hasn’t even begun its appropriations process this year. Democrats in the upper chamber want to add billions of dollars in emergency pandemic aid to annual spending bills, in addition to police reform provisions, just as House Democrats did. But Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has said those issues should be dealt with separately.
The first House minibus comes after Congress secured a two-year budget deal last summer which boosted spending and allotted a total of $740.5 billion in defense funding and $634.5 billion in nondefense funding for fiscal 2021.