Hoyer: ‘Senate Has a Responsibility to Act,’ After House Democrats Pass 10 Spending Bills

June 28, 2019 by Dan McCue
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer

WASHINGTON – As they head back to their districts for the week-long July 4 district work period, House Democrats have reason to feel proud and maybe, just a little bit tired.

For the first time in 13 years, the House has passed 10 appropriations bills before the end of June, providing funding for 96% of the federal government.

How did it happen?

Earlier this week, The Well News put that and a few related questions, to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

We got it done because we put our responsibility to govern ahead of politics and partisanship,” Hoyer explained.

“We got it done because our Caucus is united in our resolve to get things done for the people, not deeply divided like the Republican majority was in recent years,” he continued. “We don’t have the Freedom Caucus exercising a veto over appropriations anymore. 

“I also think it’s important to recognize the serious work ethic and determination of our outstanding freshman class. The new members have really hit the ground running and learned quickly how to navigate the appropriations process and deliver for their constituents,” he said.

The spending measures were passed in three phases. Last week, the House passed a $985 billion appropriations package by a vote of 226-203, effectively kick-starting the FY20 budget negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate and White House.

The four-bill “minibus” contained the two largest of the 12 annual appropriations bills; the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies bill and the Defense bill.

On Tuesday, House Democrats got back to work, passing a $322 billion package, 227-194, that combined five more spending measures needed for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Those are the Commerce-Justice-Science bill, which is the underlying vehicle, along with the Military Construction-VA, Agriculture, Transportation-HUD and the Interior-Environment bills.

Tuesday’s vote, combined with last week’s passage of the four-bill package, means the House has now completed work on about 94% of the $1.295 trillion in total discretionary spending it has agreed to provide for the coming fiscal year.

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, House Democrats passed the financial services and general government appropriations bill by a 224-196 vote.

The final two spending measures, funding the legislative branch and homeland security, are expected to be taken up in July.

Asked for details of what’s in the packages passed thus far, Hoyer said, “first of all, we made robust investments in rural America, in our defense, and in our ability to fight poverty. 

“I am particularly happy about the $600 million that we secured in the financial services bill for the Election Assistance Commission, which helps states modernize their voting systems and protect against hacking,” the majority leader said. “With the election coming up next year, Americans need to know that their votes will be counted accurately and that our voting systems are safe and reliable. 

“I’m also very pleased that we passed appropriations consistent with the spending levels – for defense and non-defense – that the Budget Committee set in the caps bill they marked up earlier this year.  That’s a big deal,” Hoyer said. 

“It shows that Democrats are serious about fiscal sustainability and averting a crisis at the end of the year, when the last budget caps agreement expires.  We – Democrats and Republicans, Congress and the President – need to reach a deal to prevent that from happening, and our appropriations bills this year try to find a solution, not worsen the problem,” he added.

So far, GOP lawmakers appear to be taking a go-slow approach to appropriating.

Not a single Republican voted for the spending measures in the House, and as of Friday, the Republican-led Senate Appropriations Committee hadn’t begun its fiscal 2020 markups or parceled out funding among the 12 subcommittees because of the uncertainty over spending caps.

Republican leaders in Congress and top White House officials have met several times to try to resolve their differences, but there’s been no indication they are reaching common ground.

Now that the House has done its work, Hoyer said, “The Senate has a responsibility to act. Period.”

“We sent them good bills, and we look forward to seeing what they send us back,” he added.

Hoyer went on to say that he hopes the Senate won’t wait until September to get serious about its budgetary responsibilities, but would instead get to work on the House–passed bills in July, “so we can finish this as early as possible.”

“We don’t know yet what the President will do,” Hoyer said. “The last shutdown, which was very damaging to our economy and our people, happened because the President said he wouldn’t sign the bill – and told House Republicans to put a bad bill on the floor that they knew wouldn’t pass muster. 

“I would urge the President to sign the bills Congress sends him, because they will represent a reasonable and responsible compromise,” he said.

But a willingness to move promptly on squaring away the next federal budget may not be in the cards. There is talk in Republican circles that Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House Chief of Staff and former director of the Office of Management and Budget, may want to push negotiations to the brink of another government shutdown, believing that would strengthen the Republicans’ hand.

“To do so would be tremendously irresponsible,” Hoyer said. “As one of the architects of the Freedom Caucus’s strategy of holding the funding of government hostage for extreme positions, Mick Mulvaney is one of the reasons why we didn’t have appropriations done on time for the American people in recent years. 

“Republicans have tried to hold appropriations hostage several times now, and what’s been the result? Shutdowns and uncertainty,” the Majority Leader said. “The way we get this done is making it clear that the House will not negotiate with hostage-takers, and we’ll work with the Senate to send the President something reasonable that he ought to sign.  Or he’ll have to own the responsibility again for shutting down the government unnecessarily.”

Asked if he’s confident another shutdown can be avoided, Hoyer said, “that’s up to Senator [Mitch] McConnell and President Trump.”

“The House is doing its job to avoid a shutdown. We don’t want a shutdown. Let’s see what the Senate sends us back, hopefully before September, and then the House will act responsibly to fund the government,” he said.

“But what we won’t do is pay for a wall that even most Republicans say is too expensive and ineffective or fund the indefinite detention of children in conditions that are squalid and, frankly, inhumane.  What we won’t do is slash our investments in opportunity and fighting poverty. And we won’t allow the Affordable Care Act to be gutted and sabotaged,” Hoyer said.

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