House backs $1T spending bill amid fears of a fall shutdown

Rosa DeLauro

“What I say is we pass it, we pass it big and we put momentum and influence on the Senate to be able to move,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro. | Al Drago/Getty Images

The House passed a nearly $1 trillion spending package on Wednesday, as Democrats laid down a marker in a funding race that could easily end in a government shutdown in September even more widespread and devastating than the extended lapse earlier this year.

In a 226-203 vote, the chamber finished work on the 667-page bill to fund the vast majority of the federal government, including the military and the Department of Health and Human Services. But it’s far too soon to declare victory in averting the fiscal cliff that looms just three-and-a-half months away.

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House Democrats cheered the exhausting legislative feat, having worked on the floor past 4 a.m. in recent days to finish the massive funding package. Democratic leaders know, however, that their measure will be headed to the shredder if a bipartisan budget deal isn’t struck soon. Congressional leaders from both parties and Trump administration officials were set to meet later Wednesday in the hopes of negotiating the parameters of a compromise that would ward off the fiscal chaos later this year.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the chairwoman of the House’s Labor-HHS-Education spending panel, rebuffed concerns about the lack of a budget deal.

“What I say is we pass it, we pass it big and we put momentum and influence on the Senate to be able to move,” she said. “Which is what we have to do. I’m not Pollyanna, but if you don’t make the fight, you don’t get anything done.”

But Republicans said a budget agreement is essential. “It’s not pointless, but — it’s pointless,” said Rep. Michael Burgess, (R-Texas), a House Rules Committee Republican who sought to add GOP-backed amendments to the lower chamber’s spending bills.

“Until they strike a deal on the budget caps, we’re blowing through them and we have the sequester as a backstop,” he said. “So is this really a good exercise to be doing? I don’t think so.”

Without such a deal to raise spending caps, increased funding levels will fall by the wayside for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. What’s more, the automatic sequestration cuts lawmakers slated eight years ago will come back to haunt them, exacting $71 billion in reductions to military spending and $55 billion in cuts to non-defense programs in the upcoming fiscal year alone.

At the same time, the nation is pressing up against its borrowing ceiling again, necessitating a debt limit increase to avoid a market-jarring default.

Exacerbating the budgetary discord is President Donald Trump’s $4.5 billion emergency funding request for humanitarian aid at the Southern border. House and Senate lawmakers are racing to deliver a funding package before the Fourth of July recess, with Senate spending leaders approving a $4.6 billion bipartisan bill on Wednesday morning. House Democratic leaders also are close to completing a long-awaited deal with Republicans, with plans to approve the package as early as next week.

But the president’s tweets earlier this week threatening to deport “millions” of undocumented immigrants via mass deportation raids won’t exactly assuage the concerns of some House Democrats, who are wary of funding what they see as Trump’s harsh immigration policies and see the crisis at the border as a mess of Trump’s own making.

The same group that’s meeting Wednesday to discuss a budget deal met last month and made surprising progress, but the differences between the parties remain vast. Senate Republicans are eager to avoid the mandatory cuts to military spending, but they were still trying to reach an agreement with Trump administration officials last week. House Democrats want a deal that increases non-military spending, to which budget hawks like acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and OMB Director Russ Vought are vehemently opposed.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have yet to introduce even one of their 12 annual spending bills. Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama said earlier this week that if a deal on new budget caps isn’t hammered out by July 1, then the upper chamber will follow the House’s lead and pick proxy numbers to get started on fiscal 2020 funding bills.

A shutdown if Congress and Trump can’t find agreement potentially would close the entire government, unlike the partial shutdown earlier this year that saw big agencies like Health and Human Services and Defense operate as normal.

Despite the uncertain spending levels, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has been committed to passing the full slate of 12 spending bills by the end of the month.

The Maryland Democrat said on Wednesday that the House will look to finish its second minibus, — a five-bill, $383 billion spending package — by Tuesday. The measure bundles funding for the departments of Justice, Commerce, Agriculture, Transportation and other agencies.

The House is expected to take up a third and final spending package next week, combining funding bills for the departments of Treasury, Homeland Security, parts of the legislative branch and a litany of other agencies.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report misstated how many pages are in the spending package.