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House approves $1.4 trillion spending deal to avert shutdown amid impeachment push

Posted at 2:26 PM, Dec 17, 2019

The House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to approve a nearly $1.4 trillion spending deal that would fund the government through fiscal year 2020 and avert the looming threat of a shutdown amid a historic impeachment push.

The sweeping package includes a military and civilian federal worker pay raise, federal funding for election security grants and gun research, and a repeal of three health care taxes designed to help pay for the Affordable Care Act, alongside a wide variety of other provisions.

The deal maintains the current funding level of $1.37 billion for a border wall, significantly less than the roughly $8.6 billion the administration had been seeking for President Donald Trump's signature issue, which triggered a shutdown at the end of last year -- though the administration will still have the authority to transfer funds for the wall from other accounts.

Lawmakers passed two legislative packages that together make up the 12 regular annual bills needed to keep the government running as the clock ticks down to an expiration of federal funding on Friday. Now that the spending deal has cleared the House, it will need to be approved by the Senate before it can go to Trump for his expected signature.

The House vote came ahead of a momentous floor vote on Wednesday on articles of impeachment against the President. The impeachment push has ratcheted up partisan tensions on Capitol Hill, but despite that, and a series of holdups including the President's request for billions in border wall funding, top congressional appropriators came together to lock in the broad outlines of a bipartisan funding deal late last week.

The agreement followed a flurry of last-minute negotiations between Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, and his House counterpart, Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, along with the ranking members on their committees, Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat,and Rep. Kay Granger, a Texas Republican. The text of the spending measures -- totaling in the thousands of pages -- was released late in the day on Monday.

Border wall and immigration-related matters

The White House signaled in negotiations that it would accept significantly less money -- the current level of $1.375 billion -- than requested on the border wall in exchange for maintaining the authority to transfer funds from Pentagon accounts to finance new wall construction, according to people involved in the talks. That agreement made it into the final deal.

The administration will maintain transfer authorities, but the deal does not include money backfilling the $3.6 billion in military construction funds the administration transferred earlier this year to fund the wall -- a key priority for Democrats.

In another setback to the President's border wall push, a federal judge last week blocked the administration from using billions of dollars in Pentagon funds for wall construction, saying the administration cannot use military construction money to build additional barriers on the southern border. The ruling targets only one set of Pentagon funds, however, leaving in place money the Supreme Court allowed to be used earlier this year.

During a closed-door House Democratic caucus meeting on Tuesday, debate over the spending bill was contentious, with liberal members from the Progressive Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus raising objections to the fact that there was any money for the border wall in the spending bill and that Republicans were able to maintain transfer authority for the President.

According to one Democrat in the room who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal caucus deliberations, Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Joaquin Castro each spoke up about their frustration that if Democrats are in the majority in the House, they shouldn't be making such big concessions on the border wall. Leadership's message was this is the reality of governing with Republicans in control of the Senate and the White House.

The spending package also establishes a new position within the Department of Homeland Security designed to oversee immigrant detention.

The position -- dubbed immigration detention ombudsman -- serves a number of functions, including addressing complaints and conducting unannounced inspections of detention facilities. Over recent months, immigration facilities have come under increased scrutiny following overcrowding and deaths in custody. The position appears intended to address some of those concerns.

Military pay raise, election security and other measures

The sweeping deal includes an increase of $22 billion relative to fiscal year 2019 levels for defense spending and delivers a 3.1% military pay raise along with a pay raise for federal civilian workers. It provides $425 million in funding for election security grants.

Lawmakers also agreed to ban the sale of tobacco products to anyone younger than 21 and to repeal several health care taxes.

The medical device tax, health insurance tax and "Cadillac" tax on employer plans -- all of which have faced bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill and have been targeted by health care industry lobbyists for years -- would be repealed in the agreement. Their opponents on Capitol Hill have been looking for a popular bill they can be attached to, and this spending package is the last train leaving the station in 2019.

The spending bill also includes $25 million for gun research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, which has long been a Democratic push. It maintains the long-standing prohibition on any funds being used to advocate or promote gun control.