House Passes $1.37 Trillion Spending Deal To Avert Shutdown

Republicans and Democrats both agree on this much: spending.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., the United States, on De
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., the United States, on Dec. 12, 2019. 

WASHINGTON ― The House approved two packages of spending legislation Tuesday, taking a major step to avoid a government shutdown later this week by giving Republicans and Democrats billions more for pet projects.

Lawmakers passed the two bills Tuesday by votes of 280-138 and 297-120.

The legislation, which in total amounts to $1.37 trillion, was split up for multiple reasons. The first motive was to avoid angering President Donald Trump, who said he would not sign another “omnibus” bill ― a common term for an all-encompassing spending bill that wraps together every individual appropriations bill. Lawmakers basically just split the omnibus into two parts and voted on them within minutes of each other.

The second reason was votes. Democratic and GOP leaders seemed to believe they could draw more of their members by combining certain bills in one package, and other bills in a different one. The first package included funding for the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Financial Services. On that bill, 130 Republicans and 150 Democrats voted for the defense spending measure, while 62 Republicans and 75 Democrats voted no.

The second package ― which included funding for the departments of Agriculture, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs ― drew 218 Democrats and 79 Republicans, while seven Democrats and 112 Republicans voted no.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that she told the administration to leave appropriators alone and let them craft a bipartisan bill. “Left to their own devices, our appropriators can get the job done,” Pelosi said.

Appropriators did get the job done, mostly by turning to their favorite consensus-building tool: spending.

The bills roughly break down to $738 billion for defense, and $632 billion for everything else. Liberals began the year arguing there ought to be parity between the defense budget and non-defense numbers. And some of those liberals voted against the defense bill. But leaders from both sides were able to quell much of the rebellion by passing out additional funding for a number of individual priorities. 

Federal employees ― civilians and servicemembers ― will get a 3.1% pay raise. There’s $41.7 billion in the bill for medical research, $1.5 billion for states to combat opioids, $9 billion for the EPA, and, for the first time in 20 years, $25 million for gun violence research.

The bill also includes $7.6 billion for the Census ― $1.4 billion more than President Trump requested ― as well as $425 million for election system upgrades. The legislation renews a number of expiring programs, including the Export-Import Bank (for seven years), the terrorism risk insurance program, flood insurance, and a high-skilled visa program. Notably, the legislation would also raise the age for tobacco use to 21.

The bill will also eventually include an extension of a number of popular tax breaks, like the so-called “Cadillac Tax,” which goes after high-value health insurance, and the mortgage interest deduction. (The House plans to “enroll” the tax extenders legislation into the spending legislation before sending it over to the Senate.)

Republicans aren’t happy about a lot of that spending, but many were giddy about the Pentagon plus-up ― $22 billion more for defense than the previous year ― and the failure of Democrats to prevent President Trump from transferring money from military construction projects.

On top of $1.4 billion for border wall construction, which is about what Trump got last year, lawmakers did not include language to block Trump from stealing money from other projects for his wall.

Republicans are counting on Trump focusing on the fact that he still has that transfer authority to get the president’s signature, while Democrats are counting on lawsuits and a shrinking amount of time before the next election to prevent border wall construction.

Republicans also touted abortion provisions, like the Title 10 change that prevents health clinics from getting federal funding if they perform or refer patients to abortion clinics. Democrats had wanted to address that policy, but ultimately let Republicans win on that fight.

“The bill maintains all prior-year pro-life protections and secures the largest pro-life victory in a generation, by maintaining the Trump administration’s Title 10 family planning regulations,” ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, Kay Granger (R-Texas), said Tuesday. 

Granger’s counterpart, Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), noted “how disappointing it is that in these negotiations President Trump and congressional Republicans refuse to relent on their counterproductive assault on women’s rights and health programs.”

Government funding runs out on Saturday, and without Trump’s signature, there will be yet another shutdown ― this time, just as lawmakers are set to leave for their Christmas breaks.

The spending deal comes a day before the House is set to impeach Trump, and there was some concern that the president might refuse to sign the deal during this process.

But Trump, once again, has signaled that he will go along with the bipartisan deal. The legislation is expected to get a vote in the Senate on Thursday, and barring a last-minute hiccup, Trump is expected to sign it before the Friday night deadline.