$800B ‘Minibus’ Goes to Floor While Eight Others on Hold: Ryan

By Nancy Ognanovich

The four-bill, $800 billion “minibus’’ led by the massive Defense spending measure will come to the floor this week while eight others remain on hold, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said.

Ryan said a plan floated by the House Freedom Caucus to bring all 12 of this year’s appropriations bills to the floor via one omnibus doesn’t have enough support to pass and the best chance for the GOP to make some progress on spending is to bring up the four bills dealing with security matters, he said.

“We have consensus for these four bills,” Ryan told reporters after a meeting of the Republican Conference. “We do not yet have full consensus on the other eight bills. That’s what we’re working toward.”

Republican leaders only have about 15 work days left before current funding for the federal government expires but so far have passed none of the 12 regular spending bills. Neither Ryan nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have attempted to bring up individual spending bills on the floors of the two chambers this summer and lawmakers said it’s almost a certainty that another stopgap spending measure will be needed to avoid a government shutdown Sept. 30.

Ryan said, however, that passage of the $800 billion package (H.R. 3219) led by Defense and the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill with large funding increases will send a strong message to constituents as lawmakers head for their August recess.

“The appropriators have been working with the whip to get the rest of the members on board,” Ryan said. “And so we anticipate building support for the rest of our bills going into September.”

Freedom Caucus Sought Omnibus

Earlier Ryan had discussed plans with House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) to bring an omnibus containing all 12 bills to the floor before the break. However, that plan fell apart when it was found to have insufficient support. The four-bill package containing security-related measures the caucus likes best became the fallback plan.

The total pricetag is $788.971 billion, including $584.181 billion for Defense, $88.166 billion for Milcon-VA, $37.56 billion for Energy and Water, and $4.490 for Legislative Branch in regular discretionary money subject to the Budget Control Act’s spending caps. On top of that is another $74.572 billion in so-called Overseas Contingency Operations money.

Ultimately, however, the package also will carry $1.6 billion for the border wall that President Donald Trump insists the appropriators fund. The money—which originated in the Homeland Security bill not included in the package—will be added via a rule leaders are developing.

Republicans said big funding increases for the Pentagon, veterans, and other security-related programs such as the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons development complex are popular with their constituents. Ryan highlighted a 2.4 percent pay raise for the military that he said is the biggest in eight years. The speaker also said that he is among the members who favor spending federal funds on the wall.

“I’ve got to tell you, when you go down there and meet with the Border Patrol themselves and you see the fact that the cartels are staging just over the river, there is a need for a physical barrier in many parts of this border,” Ryan said.

The GOP also is seeking to generate support by promising lawmakers an opportunity to offer long lists of amendments. House Rules Committee held two separate sessions July 24 and July 25 to consider them.

But support for the package that sharply boosts Defense spending and carries an overall higher pricetag than conservatives wanted isn’t a certainty.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of House Freedom Caucus, said after a meeting of the group late July 24 that there was “overwhelming support” for taking up a 12-bill omnibus but said the group hadn’t adopted a formal position. He said he will vote against the four-bill package.

“Some of us will. A lot of us will,” Meadows said.

“It looked like potentially half of the members would vote no on a mini,” Meadows said of the roughly 24 members who attended the session.

Tough Vote for Democrats

Meanwhile, the support of Democrats—who typically help Ryan get spending bills across the finish line—also is in doubt. Democrats are opposed to the cuts in store for the bills left behind, including a $5 billion cut in the Labor, Health, and Human Services bill.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters that Democrats are being urged to vote against the measure. But he acknowledged the difficulties in holding the party together.

“Defense, generally, it’s a tough bill to vote against because you have to explain, I’m for security, I’m for national security but I also believe this bill was packaged and came essentially late,” Hoyer told reporters. “These are the kinds of bills that we should consider one at a time and there’s no reason [why] we [should] not to consider them one at a time.”

“I think it’s a tough bill to vote against,” Hoyer continued. “I think [that’s] what Republicans are banking on and that’s why the minibus is constructed as it is. I think the Legislative [Branch] bill is in there because they also find that very difficult to get votes for. It’s a small number relative to the rest of the bills. I think overwhelmingly Democrats are going to not be for this bill.”

But Hoyer said there is no conflict for Democrats when it comes to the inclusion of border wall money. Besides being opposed to the money itself, Democrats don’t like that it will be included in the rule for the package and will be assumed to be adopted when the rule is adopted as a fifth title, he said.

The border wall provision is part of an overall plan that has no resemblance to the typical handling of appropriations bills, Hoyer said.

“First off the minibus is not regular order. I’ve been here 36 years—and I’ve asked my staff so I’m not absolutely positive—but I cannot remember doing an omnibus, or a minibus or a comprehensive CR prior to the August break,” Hoyer said. “I just can’t remember it.”

—With assistance from Laura Davison and Jonathan Nicholson

To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at nognanov@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bna.com

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