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House Passes $259.5 Billion Spending Package

July 24, 2020 by Dan McCue
The U.S. Capitol. Feb. 4, 2020. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – The House approved a $259.5 billion spending package Friday, rejecting a White House proposal to slash the budgets of the State Department and Environmental Protection Agency, and providing ample funding for the humanities.

The four-bill minibus, the first appropriations measure approved by either the House or Senate this year, passed by a 224-189 vote.

It would provide $65.9 billion for the State Department and affiliated agencies, an $85 billion increase over current funding.

The foreign operations bill provides billions in foreign assistance to countries such as Israel, Egypt, Ukraine, and money for counter-narcotics operations in a number of Latin American countries.

About $10 billion of the total is earmarked for the U.S. taking a larger role in ongoing global efforts to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

The agriculture bill includes about $4 billion for rural development programs, including $1 billion to expand rural broadband.

It also funds several nutritional assistance programs and would give the Food and Drug Administration mandatory recall authority for prescription and over-the-counter drugs, according to Sanford Bishop, Jr., chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.

“Our section of the minibus truly touches the life of every American by robustly funding food and medical device safety, rural and farm production programs, agriculture and medical research initiatives, plus national and international food assistance—among other programs that benefit the American people,” Bishop said.

The Interior Department would receive about $14 billion more than its current funding level in the next fiscal year.

The Interior bill also funds arts and humanities programs and museums, including funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which Trump sought to all but eliminate in his budget proposal.

Also being funded are the Smithsonian Institution, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

The Environmental Protection Agency would see an increase of about $9 billion.

In addition, House Democrats allocated $12.5 billion in emergency funding to address the rising cost of veteran health care.

“This appropriations package addresses urgent national priorities, making our country stronger at home and respected again in the world,” said retiring House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., the first woman to wield the gavel of the powerful committee.

“The State-Foreign Operations division rejects the President’s ‘go-it-alone’ approach to foreign policy, and instead makes strong investments to confront today’s global challenges and advance American priorities and leadership,” she said.

“Domestically, I am pleased that we have provided strong funding and protections to address rising food insecurity, increase broadband access, build resilience to climate change, and address sharply rising veterans’ health care costs,” Lowy continued. “I am also proud that the package includes strong emergency appropriations to confront coronavirus and support economic recovery. With this bill, we will make the world better, safer, and healthier and give every person a better chance at a better life.”

But the minibus ultimately appears to be more an opening salvo in negotiations to avoid a government shut-down, than a bill Democrats expect the president to sign.

Indeed several of its provisions fly in the face of Trump administration policies. For instance, one ensures funding for the World Health Organization, an entity Trump has expressly said he will not fund due to claims the body dropped the ball on the coronavirus, allowing it to spread.

It would block the “Mexico City Policy,” which prevents U.S. funds from flowing to foreign aid and health organizations that support abortion rights, would keep Trump from using military construction funds to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and bar oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The four-bill minibus is the first of two fiscal 2021 funding packages that House Democrats plan to pass by the end of the month.

The House will take up a seven-bill, $1.4 trillion package next week that would fund the Pentagon and the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Homeland Security, Justice, Transportation, and Energy.

Once both packages are passed, House Democrats will have approved nearly all of their fiscal 2021 appropriations bills, except the measure that funds parts of the legislative branch.

That bill is still something of a controversy among members because it does not include a cost-of-living adjustment for lawmakers.

A division-by-division summary of H.R. 7608 is available as a PDF here.

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