May 4, 2017

Congress advances spending bill ahead of government shutdown deadline

Daily Briefing

Congress has advanced a roughly $1 trillion omnibus spending bill that would fund the federal government through Sept. 30 and includes a $2 billion funding increase for NIH.

The House on Wednesday voted 309-118 to pass the bill, and the Senate on Thursday voted 79-18 to approve the measure.

The spending package now goes to President Trump, who will have to sign it by the end of Friday, when funding for the current fiscal year expires, in order to avert a government shutdown. He is expected to sign the measure, though it does not include several of the White House's budget priorities detailed in March, such as a $1.2 billion cut to NIH research.

Details of the new spending bill

Under the latest spending agreement, NIH would receive a $2 billion funding increase over the next five months, including an additional:

  • $476 million for the National Cancer Institute;
  • $400 million for Alzheimer's disease research;
  • $120 million for former President Barack Obama's All of Us Research Program, formally known as the Precision Medicine Initiative, as it seeks to recruit volunteers for genetic testing and health tracking;
  • $110 million for Obama's Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative to support efforts to map the human brain.

The spending agreement also would hike funding for programs to fight the United States' opioid misuse epidemic, from $150 million to about $800 million.

In addition, the spending agreement would:

  • Permanently extend retired coal miners' health care benefits, which had been at risk of shutting down;
  • Preserve federal funding for Planned Parenthood through the remainder of FY 2017; and
  • Provide $295 million for Puerto Rico's Medicaid program.

The spending agreement also would increase funding for the military and for border security, but not at the levels Trump had sought. The bill also does not include funding for the wall that President Trump has vowed to build along the United States' border with Mexico.

Republicans divided on deal, while Democrats declare victory

According to USA Today, House Republicans were divided on the spending package, with more than 100 GOP members voting against it, while fewer than 20 Democrats opposed the package.

But some Republicans touted the bill for including funding for certain public health initiatives. For instance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) applauded the bill for include funding to address the U.S. opioid misuse epidemic.

Democrats largely viewed the spending deal as a win. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said, "It's imperative to note what this bill does not contain. Not one cent for President Trump's border wall and no poison pill riders that would have prevented so-called sanctuary cities from receiving federal grants, defunded Planned Parenthood, undermined the Affordable Care Act."

Some conservative lawmakers said they were disappointed in the measure. For instance, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said, "I don't see it as a win for conservatives. While there are some good things in it that I think conservatives want, the hallmark things that most of us ran on are conspicuously absent."

Similarly, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), said "We should be funding our priorities, not perpetuating Democrats’ big government programs."

Trump, in apparent comments on deal, calls for shutdown in September

President Trump in Tweets on Tuesday appeared to address the concessions made in the spending bill, Politico reports. In two back-to-back tweets, Trump suggested the deal had been struck because of Senate Democrats' threat to filibuster the bill and called for more extreme measures to pass the next spending bill without Democratic support in September.

He wrote, "The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there! We either elect more Republican Senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51 percent."  He added, "Our country needs a good 'shutdown' in September to fix mess!"

Trump's calls for a shutdown were quickly dismissed by Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the Senate's second-ranking Republican, said, "Our voters, the people who elected Republican majorities in both Houses and elected this president, did not vote for us in order to shut down the government. They voted for us to govern, as hard as it is."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a statement criticized Trump's comments, saying he was "recklessly threatening chaos in the lives of millions of Americans."

McConnell also dismissed Trump's call to change the Senate rules and eliminate the 60-vote threshold required to advance legislation in the chamber, saying, "That will not happen," adding, "There is an overwhelmingly majority on a bipartisan basis not interested in changing the way the Senate operates."

(Marcos, The Hill, 5/3; Snell, "PowerPost," Washington Post, 5/4; Lesniewski, Roll Call, 5/4; Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal, 5/2; Cowan, Reuters, 5/3; Kelly, USA Today, 5/3; Taylor, AP/U.S. New & World Report, 5/3; Ferris et al., Politico, 5/2; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi release, 5/2).

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