House passes $145B spending package
WASHINGTON (AP) — The GOP-controlled House on Friday passed a $145 billion spending bill funding Energy Department and veterans’ programs for the upcoming budget year.
Approval of the measure came over the opposition of Democrats on a 235-179 vote that sent the three-bill bundle to the Senate, where action is expected to be more bipartisan.
The legislation includes a $5 billion increase for the Department of Veterans Affairs, including $1.1 billion to pay for legislation signed on Wednesday by President Donald Trump give veterans more freedom to see doctors outside the troubled VA system.
At issue is the annual process of annually funding the day-to-day operations of the federal government, one of the chief duties of lawmakers. The overall amount of funding — $1.3 trillion for the budget year beginning Oct. 1 — was set earlier this year in a budget deal between Democrats and Republicans controlling Washington.
Some GOP conservatives only reluctantly voted for Friday’s measure, which they felt was too generous. But even the most spending-averse lawmakers are reluctant to vote against funding veterans’ programs. Democrats, however, mostly opposed the bill because on unrelated conservative policy “riders” attached by Republicans such as language killing clean water rules and permitting firearms to be carried on federal property controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers.
“This bill is full of poison pill riders that will ultimately make our time here a total waste,” said Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif.
Democrats also said that the measure sets up cuts in future legislation to programs they support. Future packages of poison pill-laden spending bills, they promise, will be more difficult to pass as GOP support ebbs. It’s not clear how many further appropriations packages will be able to pass the chamber.
Republicans narrowly controlling the Senate, meanwhile, are taking a different approach, seeking bipartisanship at every opportunity in hopes of reviving the process of handling the appropriations bills — which once dominated floor debates during the summer and early fall — and averting another take-it-or-leave-it omnibus spending bill like the two that have passed so far during Trump’s tenure. The president promises he won’t sign another catchall measure.
The bill also contains $3.8 billion to fund the annual operations of Congress. It includes a provision to again deny lawmakers the annual cost-of-living pay raise that they are supposed to receive. Salaries for members of Congress have been frozen at $174,000 per year for a decade.
The legislation came the day after the House narrowly passed Trump-sought legislation to cut almost $15 billion in unused government money in a mostly symbolic move designed to demonstrate fiscal discipline.
The measure includes $267 million to revive the mothballed nuclear waste dump at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.
Supporters say the site would help solve a nuclear-waste storage problem that has festered for more than three decades while opponents — including Nevada’s entire congressional delegation — say it would turn the state into a “toxic waste dump.”
Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., said it is long past time for Congress to move forward with the Yucca project, which the Obama administration halted in 2010 at the urging of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada.
“To gain the public’s confidence in nuclear energy, we must have a functioning nuclear waste management program,” Shimkus said. “It is time to move forward and finish the project.”
More than 80,000 metric tons of spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants sit idle in 121 communities across 39 states.
AP reporter Matthew Daly contributed to this article.