Mike & Co. —
Members of Congress are fleeing town, almost all of them headed for the campaign trail, following final passage today of the continuing resolution (CR), a stop-gap measure to fund the federal government until Dec. 9. In the end, negotiations centered in the end on assistance for residents of Flint, MI whose water supply was contaminated with lead in 2014.
The assistance is forthcoming, but via the House’s Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) rather via the CR, at the insistence of the GOP. How come or — to paraphrase a certain Democratic presidential nominee — what difference does it make? Who are the winners and losers in the bill than passed today?
We look at the most contentious of the “policy riders” debated as the CR was negotiated over the course of September.
Congress avoided a government shutdown two days before the deadline, adopting a spending measure which extends the current government funding levels until December 9. H.R. 5325 was passed with a vote of 77 to 21 in the Senate yesterday afternoon, followed by a late-night vote of 342 to 85 in the House. President Obama is expected to sign the Bill tomorrow upon his return from Jerusalem.
The stalemate was finally resolved late Tuesday night when Speaker Ryan and Minority Leader Pelosi struck a deal to include $170 million in relief for Flint in the House version of a separate water bill. Mitch McConnell’s “clean” CR has been passed, a kind of line-in-the-sand for those concerned that policy riders attached to the CR would invite a slew of Christmas tree ornament-type amendments when the next budget bill is considered in December.
Democrats had sought federal relief money for the Flint crisis since January and were eager to get funding passed into law. Believing the CR was a good means to attain this end, they argued for relief funds to be included. GOP leaders countered that the Senate had already approved aid for Flint earlier in the month in a separate water projects bill, but Democrats argued this was not a sufficient guarantee. Efforts by McConnell to vote for cloture had been rebuffed twice previously, as Democrats remained steadfast in demands for Flint.
Though the bill passed, not all Democrats were happy as direct aid for funding was not attached to the CR. Notably, Michigan’s two Democratic Senators voted against the measure. There is a subtle difference between the funding for Flint in the CR and in the WRDA: it is considered emergency supplemental spending in the CR; in the WRDA it is re-directed spending from other programs, that is, no new net spending. NB: the amount provided, $170 million, is microscopic in federal budget terms, attesting to the issue’s political value.
Louisiana Flood Relief
Republicans supported a provision to provide emergency flood relief for Louisiana and other states struggling since August flooding along the Gulf Coast. Democrats were not against the measure but argued that the GOP had to guarantee aid for for Flint. Following the compromise on the House’s WRDA, Louisiana and other states were allotted $500 million in emergency flood relief.
Zika Virus Funding
Before Flint claimed center stage, the most serious obstacle to the agreement had been over funding to fight the Zika Virus in Puerto Rico. The GOP had insisted on language blocking access to federal funds for Planned Parenthood and its local affiliate, Profamilias, the biggest health care provider in Puerto Rico.
After fierce push-back from Democrats and the administration, Republicans agreed to remove the partisan language from the bill. The bill provides $1.1 billion in emergency spending to Puerto Rico to combat the Zika Virus, now running rampant over the island.
An argument ensued over how to offset the $1.1 billion. As an emergency spending measure, the funding was not required to be offset, though it would affect other areas of discretionary spending. The GOP included a 0.59 percent across the board cut in discretionary spending to offset the Zika Virus funding, which Democrats argued was unnecessary.
One of the key defeats for Senate Democrats and the Administration, was the inclusion of language limiting the power of the SEC. Senate Republicans had included language on the CR blocking the Commission from requiring public companies to report their political activities. In the 2015 end of year spending package, Republicans included a rider which prevented the SEC from forcing companies to reveal their political spending. Democrats wanted the provision to expire with the new budget agreement, while Republicans led by Sen. McConnell fiercely advocated to extend it.
Republican and trade advocacy groups, as well as key Congressional leaders, including Senator Shelby, opposed an Ex-Im Bank provision to restore the Bank’s ability to make loans above $10 million without a three person quorum. The Obama administration had sought the rider in the CR to restore the Ex-Im Bank’s authority to provide trade financing for projects larger than $10 million.
The Bank is barred from lending to larger-scale projects so long as three of its five Board seats are vacant. To date, the Republicans have ostensibly rendered the institution non-operational by refusing to approve new board members for the five-person board.
This was most recently demonstrated yesterday, when Senate Banking Chair Shelby rejected a unanimous consent request to confirm John Mark Waters to the board put forward by Sen. Murray. Democratic hopes to circumvent the issue be removing the three-person quorum quota were thwarted as language removing the quota were not included in the CR.