House Democrats plan to pass spending bill package

January 21, 2019 GMT

House Democrats are planning to vote this week on a package of bills designed to prove that President Trump’s demand for a border wall is the only holdup to getting most of the rest of government funded.

The package compiles negotiated deals on every outstanding 2019 spending bill except for Homeland Security and represents compromises on all sides, while sidestepping fights over abortion and the 2020 census.

Democrats said these bills could have been passed last year, while the GOP was still in control of both chambers, had the border wall fight not derailed action. They cast them as a way to advance the shutdown negotiations and open up those parts of government on which most folks agree.

“The president must sign these bills to reopen government immediately and stop holding the American people hostage with this senseless shutdown,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Mrs. Pelosi and other Democrats swiftly rejected a new offer Mr. Trump made over the weekend in a bid to break the logjam: $5.7 billion for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, plus additional money for humanitarian assistance and security at U.S. ports of entry and other items.

The deal would include a three-year extension of protections for “Dreamers,” immigrants who entered the U.S. as children illegally, and a three-year extension of the government’s Temporary Protected Status policies, which allow certain immigrants to stay in the U.S. amid extraordinary circumstances in their home countries, like ongoing war.

Democrats say they also plan to support additional funding for security at ports of entry and immigration judges, but that the final package shouldn’t include money for a border wall.

Republicans said Mr. Trump’s good-faith offer should at least force Democrats to restart talks to end the shutdown.

“It’s time for Democrats to get to the negotiating table,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican.

Republicans previously had dismissed the plan to vote on the package of negotiated non-DHS bills, saying there won’t be a settlement until Democrats agree to some funding for Mr. Trump’s border wall.

“It clearly could be part of a package that opens the government, and I’d be fine with that,” Mr. Blunt said. “But there’s no reason for us to be voting on bills that the president isn’t likely to sign.”

What the bills suggest is that Congress has ironed out all the big non-immigration wrinkles in the remaining bills.

For example, Democrats retreated on their demand to reverse the so-called Mexico City policy, which bars funding from going to foreign groups that perform or promote abortions. Mr. Trump had said any attempt to revoke the policy would be dead on arrival.

“If they send any legislation to my desk that weakens the protection of human life, I will issue a veto and we have the support to uphold those vetoes,” the president said in a recorded message for last week’s March for Life.

But the bill would not write the Mexico City policy into law, as some Republicans had fought for.

The new package also wouldn’t protect special counsel Robert Mueller a move some Democrats had demanded nor would it prevent the administration from asking a question about citizenship on the 2020 census.

The new bill instead includes general language encouraging the Census Bureau’s efforts “aimed at maximizing self-response” to the census, according to an explanatory statement.

The courts could have the final say on the issue. A federal judge last week blocked the administration from asking about citizenship in the census, saying officials cut corners in their decision-making to add the question.

The package preserves compromises and wins from past spending fights. It would prevent funding for inspections of facilities used to slaughter horses for human consumption, effectively banning the practice. Animal welfare advocates routinely fight to keep the de facto ban in place.

It preserves some provisions Republicans have pushed for on the environment, which include restricting the government’s ability to regulate the lead content of ammunition and prohibiting the EPA from requiring Clean Water Act permits for certain kinds of farming.

But it leaves out a repeal of a GOP-sought provision intended to expand access to federal lands for hunting, fishing and recreational shooting.

The bill also would override the president’s proposed pay freeze for federal employees, giving them a 1.9 percent pay increase for 2019. The initial House version of the legislation didn’t include the pay increase.

Democrats are hoping that as the shutdown wears on, the number of GOP defections on individual bills to reopen the government will increase and ultimately pressure Mr. Trump and Republicans into making a deal that’s more to their liking.

Mr. Blunt, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said it won’t work on GOP senators.

“This will not be part of the solution, nor is it designed to be part of the solution,” he said. ”[The votes] are purely political and frankly every House Republican should probably cast their vote based on how they can explain the politics of this.”

Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, said he hopes the final shutdown solution does involve passing full-year bills negotiated by the House and Senate.

“But to say that we’re going to do everything except the one thing that we’re discussing doesn’t help us, either,” said Mr. Lankford, another Appropriations Committee member.