Bloomberg Government: Election-Security Grants a Sticking Point in Spending Debate
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Fights over election-security grants and top-line figures in the Financial Services appropriations bill are among the issues holding up one of the spending packages lawmakers hope to send to President Donald Trump by the end of the month. The Financial Services bill, which funds agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Communications Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission, is mostly to blame for a delay in advancing the four-bill spending package, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) told reporters last week.The legislation also would cover Interior-Environment, Transportation-HUD and Agriculture-FDA. Appropriators, who formally met last week in a conference committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate bills, have yet to produce a final piece of legislation.
Lawmakers have sent a three-bill spending package (H.R. 5895) for Trump’s signature that includes military construction and veterans’ programs. They have also reached a deal on a two-bill measure (H.R. 6157) for defense and health programs that would cover almost 70 percent of discretionary spending in fiscal 2019, which members in both chambers expect to pass by the end of next week. A deal on this four-bill spending measure (H.R. 6147) including Financial Services would allow lawmakers to reach their goal of passing nine of the 12 appropriations bills by the Sept. 30 end of this fiscal year.
Lawmakers still disagree over whether to include more money for election-security grants to help state and local governments modernize their equipment amid concerns of Russian interference with U.S. balloting. The fiscal 2018 omnibus (Public Law 115-141) provided $380 million in grants.
The lack of new funds to improve election systems is one of the issues keeping discussions “in a holding pattern,” House Appropriations Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said last week.
“The Trump administration’s top national security officials have repeatedly warned about threats to our elections,” Lowey said.
House Appropriations Financial Services Subcommittee Chairman Tom Graves (R-Ga.) continued to call last week for a $585 million savings account within his spending bill. The debate over that measure, which would bar the government from using the money until the federal deficit has been eliminated, means appropriators essentially can’t agree on basic spending levels for the bill.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) the ranking members of the Appropriations Financial Services Subcommittees, criticized the measure in last week’s meeting, saying it would make essentially no difference in the federal deficit.
“For us to try to address this issue through a subcommittee will do one thing, and that is squash any meaningful effort that subcommittee has to fund its elements of government,” Quigley said.
Graves continued to push for the measure, saying it “is the No. 1 priority of the House majority leader.” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) praised Graves’s idea in July, writing on Twitter, “Tom has developed one of the more creative approaches to governing this place has seen in a while. This is what leadership for our future is all about.”
The Senate’s Financial Services spending bill included almost $23.7 billion. The House’s top-line was $23.4 billion, although that includes the $585 million savings account.
Interior: The Interior-Environment portion of the spending package also isn’t finished, with Democrats complaining about House Republican environmental policy riders.
“More than 20 riders were added to the House bill and they continue to plague these conference negotiations,” Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), ranking member of the Interior-Environment Subcommittee, said last week.
Agriculture: The Agriculture-FDA bill is mostly done, although a few outstanding issues remain, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said last week.
Lawmakers have agreed to provide $550 million for rural broadband grants and loans, Hoeven said.
Transportation: The Transportation-HUD measure is almost done, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) told reporters last week. The measure’s allocation is $800 million less than the original House spending level, he said at last week’s conference committee meeting. That means the allocation will be about $71 billion, compared with the House’s earlier figure of $71.8 billion and the Senate’s $71.4 billion.
Despite the cut from previous versions of the bill, a $71 billion allocation would be $700 million higher than in fiscal 2018. That would allow lawmakers to include additional discretionary funds for roads, highways, bridges, airports and seaports, in addition to mandatory, formula-based funding streams for those projects, Diaz-Balart told reporters last week. He added that appropriators will fund the BUILD infrastructure grant program, formerly called TIGER grants, “at a very, very healthy level.”
WHITE HOUSE SIGNING
The White House has yet to release a formal statement of administration policy on any final spending package. The administration released a statement last week indicating support for the measure that both chambers passed covering Military Construction-VA, Energy and Water and Legislative Branch appropriations.
“This ‘minibus’ appropriations package aligns with many of the Administration’s priorities,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement last week. She added, “President Trump looks forward to signing this legislation and continuing to work with Congress to enact Fiscal Year 2019 funding for the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies, while continuing to show fiscal restraint.”