House passes bill to boost defense, fund border wall


Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, speaks during a July 19 markup of fiscal 2018 spending bills on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
The House passed a $790 billion spending bill Thursday that would increase military funding and pave the way for construction of a wall along 72 miles of the Mexican border. It has, however, virtually no chance of becoming law.

The bill blasts through the defense spending cap enacted under the 2011 Budget Control Act by $72 billion. If enacted, the bill would result in an across-the-board 13 percent cut in Pentagon spending absent an agreement with Democrats to lift the caps.

But House Republican leaders on Thursday praised the bill — which combined fiscal 2018 appropriations for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Energy Department and the legislative branch in addition to the Defense Department — as a muscular statement of Republican policy priorities that will set the stage for later talks with Democrats. The $1.6 billion in border wall funding was pulled from a separate homeland security bill.

The bill passed the House 235 to 192, with five Republicans voting against and five Democrats voting in favor. Eight other spending bills that have cleared the House Appropriations Committee await action; GOP leaders chose not to bring them to the floor despite pressure from appropriators eager to see Republican spending priorities passed through the House.

“We must be vigilant in protecting our homeland. That’s our priority,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement. “This legislation funds the most critical functions of government. It secures our borders by providing funding for a wall on our southern border. It gives our service members a raise and ensures they have the tools they need to complete their missions. Additionally, the legislation takes care of our veterans here at home who have kept us safe.”

But Rep. Nita M. Lowey (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, called the bill “a fraudulent presentation to the American people” that could not possibly be enacted into law.

A pair of controversial amendments that would have defunded the Congressional Budget Office failed on the House floor Wednesday night. But Lowey said the bill that passed Thursday, as well as the other spending bills in the House hopper, contain plenty of other “poison pills” that would lead Democrats to block them in the Senate, where most legislation must garner a three-fifths majority.

No provision, she said, is more objectionable than the money to build President Trump’s border wall: “To tack on this wall, which is so immoral and so distasteful to the majority of our caucus, really is unfortunate,” she said.

Current federal spending authority expires Sept. 30, and federal agencies will partially shut down then if a spending accord is not reached beforehand.

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