By: Haley Byrd – weeklystandard.com – March 22, 2018
Lawmakers in the House, racing a government shutdown deadline, voted 256-167 to pass a $1.3-trillion omnibus spending bill on Thursday afternoon, less than 20 hours after its 2,232 pages of legislative text were first released.
The spending bill will keep the government funded through the rest of the fiscal year. Included are legislative priorities of both sides of the aisle, ranging from gun violence prevention measures to technical fixes for the Republican-passed tax cuts. There is $4.6 billion for states to combat the opioid crisis, additional funds for election security, infrastructure spending, and $1.6 billion for border security. Only $641 million of the border money goes to new and replacement fencing.
The omnibus will go to the Senate for approval next, where leaders will contend with procedural constraints that could trigger a brief government shutdown absent unanimous consent from senators to speed up the vote. Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, furious with leadership for keeping members in the dark, caused a funding lapse in February when he objected to waiving debate time requirements, and he has refused to say whether he will do the same this time.
“We have a deadline,” House speaker Paul Ryan responded to complaints about the rushed process during a press conference Thursday morning. It was a far cry from his call for a return to regular order during his first speech after being elected speaker in 2015, when he argued that “when we rush to pass bills a lot of us do not understand—we are not doing our job.”
Republicans on Thursday objected to not only the process, but also to many of the provisions of the bill. “Republicans would be united in opposition to this if a Democratic administration had proposed it,” freshman Republican Warren Davidson told me. “This is a really bad spending plan.”
And Louisiana senator John Kennedy described it with his characteristic charm: “This is a Great Dane-sized whiz down the leg of every taxpayer.”
Members who supported the omnibus, such as Rep. Phil Roe, pointed to an $80-billion defense spending increase, adding up to $629 billion. Some of that will go to a 2.4-percent pay raise for the military. The generous spending caps were finalized in February when congressional leaders struck a massive two-year budget deal, which contained perks for Democrats like a $63-billion boost in non-defense discretionary spending, totaling $579 billion.
Republicans blamed the concessions on their slim majority of 51 members in the Senate, where 60 votes are required for passage. Still, Democrats won a higher budget cap hike on non-defense discretionary spending under the Republican-controlled government than they were ever able to achieve after the Budget Control Act was passed under former President Barack Obama. “When we’re in the minority, we say we have no power, and when they’re in the minority, we say they have all the power,” complained House Freedom Caucus member Scott Perry.
Asked about the non-defense increases during a press conference Tuesday, Ryan said the investments “are things Republicans and Democrats agree on.”
“We’re pleased with where that domestic funding is going,” said Ryan.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley attributed the non-defense boost to a recognition among Republican leaders that they would need Democratic support to pass the omnibus. “They need our votes, and what I’ve been saying all along is that if they wanted Democratic votes, the bill had to be more reflective of Democratic values,” he told me Thursday morning.
112 Democrats joined with 144 Republicans to vote for the omnibus, with 76 Democrats and 91 Republicans opposing it. Having done their part to fund the government, members of the House will take a two-week recess.
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