The House on Thursday passed another giant funding package, putting lawmakers exactly halfway on the path to advancing all 12 funding bills by Sept. 30.
But the march toward the Senate was interrupted by a raucous demonstration on the floor by Democrats, who broke into a chant of "USA, USA" as they forced a procedural vote attempting to restore election security grant funding slashed by Republicans.
The House’s flurry of action so far this summer is no reassurance that both chambers of Congress can muscle through all of the spending bills by the end of the fiscal year and avoid a stopgap spending measure — or even a potential government shutdown. The election security funds could be a flashpoint in the Senate, where Democrats hold more sway.
The two-bill fiscal 2019 spending bundle, which was approved 217-199, funds a slew of agencies including the Treasury Department, the IRS, the EPA, conservation programs — and election security.
House Democrats have seized on the GOP’s plan to reject new election security funding in the legislation, even as U.S. intelligence officials warn of the ongoing threat from Russia ahead of the midterms. That issue broke open this week, as an indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller revealed new details of how Russian officers attempted to crack into state voter databases.
“Surely we can rise above pandering to party and Putin to act on behalf of our elections,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on the floor Thursday, rallying Democrats in the chant before the effort to fund new election grants failed 182-232. “We have sworn an oath to defend our Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Rep. Nita Lowey, the top Democrat on the spending panel, said the GOP’s decision to not add new election security money to an existing pot was the “worst cut” in the entire spending bill. “We have all heard the public warnings of our intelligence community that Russia will attempt to attack our democracy again,” Lowey (D-N.Y.) said this week.
“Yet instead of helping states protect and fortify their election infrastructure from cyber hacking, this bill would eliminate election security grants entirely.”
GOP leaders have argued that states haven’t yet used up all the money from the last omnibus — a total of $380 million. States have been slow to line up for that money, which was approved in March. But the Election Assistance Commission, which was created after the 2000 presidential election, said this week that about 88 percent of the money has now been transferred to the states.
States can use the cash to “to help secure voting systems and processes in upcoming elections,” including equipment replacement, systemwide audits, training and other technology upgrades. California has received $34 million, Texas has gotten $23 million and Florida has gotten $19 million.
With Thursday’s final passage vote, the House has now cleared six of 12 annual spending bills — the official midway point for its current spending season.
The Senate is planning to take up the House-passed package as early as next week, though it may look different than the House version, possibly stalling bicameral negotiations.
Senate GOP leaders hope to tuck their versions of two more monstrous bills into the legislation, Agriculture and Transportation-HUD, which the House has yet to pass. That move could further complicate efforts to combine each chamber’s version of the bills, though some House Republicans believe it’s possible to get that four-bill package through their side of the Capitol.
“We clearly have not coordinated minibus-to-minibus, so I don’t know what to think,” senior appropriator Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said Wednesday, adding that he thinks “we could” take up the Agriculture and Transportation bills in the House.
As the House and Senate begin to reconcile their bills, one of the biggest hurdles is the inclusion of so-called poison pill riders.
The House’s bills have been written and approved almost entirely by Republicans, with Democrats howling that they’ve been left out of the process.
Those hyperpartisan spending bills — including today’s package of Financial Services and Interior-Environment titles — include conservative policies that will be sent to their grave in the Senate, where Democratic buy-in is more necessary due to the slim GOP majority.
This package, for instance, includes language to block an Obama-era rule on methane emissions, to weaken enforcement of Chesapeake Bay cleanup and to bar the EPA from regulating truck trailers under the Clean Air Act.
The other funding challenge is time. The House is planning to leave in early August for its monthlong break. When lawmakers return, they will have just three weeks in session before that Sept. 30 deadline.
The Senate, meanwhile, plans to remain on Capitol Hill for much of August, with part of that time devoted to spending work.
The House and Senate have already begun hashing out the details between three of their spending bills, which were approved in an earlier minibus. Those bills are Military Construction-VA, Energy-Water and Legislative Branch.
That conference committee has been stuck, however, because both parties can’t agree on how to pay for a funding shortfall for a veterans health program.
The House has also already passed its massive Defense spending bill, which the Senate has yet to take up. Senate GOP leaders hope to pair that Defense bill with another domestic bill, the Labor-HHS-Education bill, which the House has yet to approve.