House Republicans Unveil Plan To Keep the Government Open
The fine print offers good news for the Pentagon and State Department and ongoing VA oversight, as well as efforts to curb the Ebola outbreak. By Billy House
House Republicans on Tuesday unveiled details of a stopgap spending bill to keep government operating through Dec. 11 that includes money to fight the Ebola outbreak, reauthorizes the controversial Export-Import Bank through the end of June 2015, and extends the moratorium on taxing the Internet.
It was no secret that the House planned to act on a continuing resolution to keep government funded beyond the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year. Lawmakers returning Monday to Washington for two weeks of work after the August recess have made it clear they wanted to avoid the possibility of a shutdown of agencies and operations during the stretch run before the Nov. 4 elections.
But the fate of the Ex-Im Bank, which provides loans to foreign companies to help them buy American products, had been less certain.
The bank's current authorization is set to expire on Oct. 1. And though generally supported by Democrats, conservatives led by Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas have opposed its renewal. Critics say it is a form of "crony capitalism," that it interferes with the free market, and that it puts taxpayers on the hook for loans.
Even new Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had said in June, shortly after his leadership election, that he intended to let the bank's charter expire. And internal party counts have had as much as half of the entire House Republican conference opposed to renewal.
But the prospect of shuttering the bank was upsetting many business leaders. And Speaker John Boehner and others were able to convince Hensarling and others to go along with the temporary extension through June 30, to allow more time for deciding what to do on a more permanent basis.
"Leadership has worked with Hensarling. I think this is a reasonable compromise," said Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers.
The decision to move forward with an Ex-Im renewal—even a short-term one—prompted criticism from the conservative Heritage Action for America, which has said it will score the vote on Ex-Im as a key vote for lawmakers in its ratings.
"Conservatives are understandably wary when Washington promises to fight another day, especially without an ironclad promise from leadership that this is the last reauthorization ever," said Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler. "Instead of asking conservatives to cast their vote to reauthorize this fund for corporate welfare, House Republican leaders should stand up to President Obama and K Street."
Democrats, meanwhile, have lobbied Republicans to extend the Ex-Im Bank for at least five years, and it's unclear how many votes the minority party will contribute when the measure hits the House floor.
The House Rules Committee on Tuesday night announced it will be holding a hearing at 2 p.m. Wednesday to set floor procedures for a vote later this week.
Rogers pointed out that the continuing resolution includes flexibility for agencies in some spending decisions, and also includes $88 million to help pay for the government's response to the Ebola outbreak in western Africa.
The bill's language states that the money would be made available to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And looking past the elections—into the post-Nov. 4 lame-duck session—Rogers said discussions already are under way on how to wrap up 2014 appropriations with an omnibus bill before the end of the year. The House and the Senate so far have not yet agreed on any of the 12 annual appropriations bills for fiscal 2015.
Some Republicans have suggested that the prospect of a GOP takeover of the Senate in theNov. 4 elections—and control of both chambers next session—is a reason to hold off on the appropriations work until the new year. That way, an outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would not continue to hold leverage over the talks.
But Rogers said House leaders now hope to proceed with an omnibus in December, and get it passed "before the new Congress meets in January."
"I want to get '15 over with," he said, referring to the fiscal year for which spending bills were supposed to be done by Oct. 1.
"I would rather the new Congress start off from scratch, rather than ... with difficulties," he said.
The CR continues the level of government spending at the current fiscal 2014 annual rate of $1.012 trillion. Along with the Ex-Im reauthorization and funding to fight the Ebola crisis, Rogers said that the CR will also include some other changes to existing law:
- A provision to extend the Internet Tax Freedom Act through Dec. 11;
- A provision to extend expiring Department of Defense activities, including counter-drug operations and rewards for assistance in battling terrorism;
- A provision to continue the surge in funding for State Department programs to counter regional terrorism against Ukraine and other former Soviet Union countries;
- Several items regarding continued oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs;
- Additional flexibility for Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to maintain staffing levels and border-security operations, detention space, and immigration enforcement activities;
- A provision to allow funding flexibility to maintain weather-satellite programs;
- A continuation of current funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program;
- Added funds to offset food-price increases in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
Rogers said the continuing resolution was drafted without "controversial riders" by his committee and in a "responsible, restrained way that should draw wide support in the House and Senate."