House panel votes to block military construction money from going toward border wall
House Democrats staked out several positions on immigration through the appropriations process on Thursday, advancing spending bills through the appropriations committee that would block President Trump from tapping military construction funds for his desired U.S.-Mexico border wall and pave the way for “Dreamers” to work on Capitol Hill.
Democrats included language in a bill that funds military construction and veterans programs for 2020 that blocks any use of military construction funds from 2015-2020 from going toward border wall construction.
“Whether we agree or disagree on the need for a wall or whether there is or is not a crisis at the border, I hope this committee can agree that funds for the wall should not be stolen from previously approved vital military construction projects that are to a dollar, a higher priority than any wall,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida Democrat.
The president declared a national emergency on the southern border earlier this year, and the White House said the move allows him to tap about $3.6 billion in military construction money to go toward the wall. House Democrats have sued to try to block the effort.
Both Mr. Trump and the GOP-led Senate are sure to object to the language in the bill, which the committee passed on a near-party-line, 31-21 vote.
GOP Rep. Will Hurd, who represents a border district in Texas, was the lone Republican on the committee to vote yes.He had previously touted millions of dollars in the bill that would go toward military facilities in his state, among other priorities.
But the broader push from Democrats indicates that the wall is shaping up to be a major battle point in next year’s spending process, as lawmakers try to avoid another shutdown this fall.
Rep. Kay Granger, the top Republican on the committee, said passing the bill as written could well lead to a presidential veto or government shutdown.
“We must address the crisis at our border, both for the safety of the American people and those seeking entry into our country,” said Ms. Granger, Texas Republican.
The overall bill provides about $108 billion in base discretionary funding for military construction and veterans programs about a $10 billion boost from 2019.
That includes about $2 billion in emergency funding tied to hurricane recovery efforts in the southeast, and close to $1 billion in special war funding that isn’t subject to spending caps.
The committee on Thursday also advanced a separate bill that funds legislative branch programs next year, and included language that would allow illegal immigrant “Dreamers” in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to work on Capitol Hill.
That bill passed on a party-line, 28-22 vote.
“DACA recipients have a legal right to work in the United States and contribute to our economy and our communities,” said Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, New York Democrat. “It is well past time they be able to contribute to the business of Congress as well.”
Ms. Granger said there are many worthwhile priorities in the bill, like funding for U.S. Capitol Police, but that she had concerns.
“Legislative branch appropriations bills typically avoid controversy and have bipartisan support,” she said. “Unfortunately, this bill contains policies that divide us.”
Ms. Granger said she also had concerns about the bill’s overall spending levels, saying there’s a lack of consensus there.
The bill includes language that allows the agencies it funds to employ Dreamers who are authorized to work in the U.S. under the DACA program.
Non-U.S. citizens are generally barred from working for the federal government, with some exceptions. The language in the bill would override a separate provision that disallows money from being used to employ non-U.S. citizens who don’t meet certain immigration status requirements.
Overall, the bill provides close to $4 billion in discretionary spending for programs in the legislative branch, which includes the U.S. House, the Capitol Police, and the Congressional Budget Office. That’s about a 4 percent increase compared to 2019 levels.
House Democrats are pressing forward with advancing individual spending bills for 2020, working off a top-line discretionary number of close to $1.3 trillion.
They have now advanced three of the 12 individual spending bills for 2020 through committee. The appropriations panel advanced a bill on Wednesday that provides approximately $190 billion in base discretionary funding for labor, health, and education programs.
Overall, discretionary spending would see an increase of about $51 billion under the Democrats’ plan.
But without additional action from Congress, spending caps lawmakers passed in 2011 would actually ratchet down by about $125 billion in fiscal 2020, which starts Oct. 1.
Any deal to lift the caps would need to get support from Republicans, who typically favor bigger spending boosts for the Pentagon than what many Democrats can stomach.
The White House has said Congress should be able to live under the limits for next year, and has indicated opposition to another deal that would boost spending across-the-board, both for military and domestic priorities.
Mr. Trump’s 2020 budget proposal does achieve a funding boost for the military, but leverages a gimmick by relying on the special war fund to get around the caps.