Defense Bill Moving to House Floor Under Plan to Avoid Stopgap

By Nancy Ognanovich

House Republican leaders plan to bring the massive Department of Defense spending bill to the floor the week of March 6 as they work to beat back speculation that Congress will resort to yet another continuing resolution to fund the federal government.

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) decision to bring up the huge bill, which calls for the Pentagon to receive roughly $600 billion this year, marks the start of an effort with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to wrap up the fiscal year 2017 appropriations bills and avoid any crisis when the current CR runs out April 28.

The House Appropriations Committee plans to file the legislation by week’s end after concluding conference negotiations on the measure with the Senate, a committee spokeswoman said March 1. The legislation then will be ready to come up a few days later, she said.

Early action on the bill and the other 10 unfinished annual spending bills is seen as critical, as government funds are set to run out in less than 60 days. Passage on the DOD bill—which represents about half of the $1 trillion in annual funds under appropriators’ control—would send a strong signal that lawmakers won’t simply pass another CR to fund the government through Sept. 30, lawmakers said.

The DOD bill is likely to be the first of several vehicles aimed at boosting Pentagon spending this year, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said. Thornberry said he can’t rule out a scenario in which the measure is part of an even larger package that ultimately carries the new supplemental that President Donald Trump plans to send Congress.

The latter, he said, may provide another $30 billion for defense.

“I think the priority is, ‘Let’s get this appropriations bill done,’ understanding that there is still a supplemental coming and we’ve got to do [fiscal] ’18 in the future,” Thornberry told reporters at a March 1 briefing. “It certainly would remove the specter of a CR to get this much done now.”

‘This Is a Fluid Game.’

The Defense spending bill is considered the most popular of the regular bills and the easiest to attract bipartisan support. It is expected to be brought up during the latter part of the week and finished by the time the House departs March 10. After that, it will be sent to the Senate for action.

Members of the House Appropriations Committee said they also are at work negotiating the final details of the other unfinished bills. They said they are nearing conference agreements on many of them.

But former Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told Bloomberg BNA the overall strategy is still in flux. Rogers, who now chairs the State Foreign Operations Subcommittee, said all the bills are being finalized with the Senate but the Defense measure ultimately may be the only one that is considered as a stand-alone measure on the House floor.

“We’re getting pretty close to consensus with the Senate,” Rogers said, when asked about the State-Foreign Ops bill. “But the Defense bill will be the only one that goes to the House floor.”

Rogers suggested the Defense bill could be advanced as the vehicle for an 11-bill omnibus. The 12th bill—the annual Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill—was the lead vehicle for the CR passed last fall.

“It’s possible the Senate may add some of the other bills to [Defense] and then send it back to us,” Rogers said. “But this is a fluid game.”

Riders Remain Problematic

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, confirmed that Democrats are satisfied with the Defense bill that will be filed soon in the House.

But Durbin told Bloomberg BNA that he agreed the steps after that are in flux.

“That’s being discussed,” Durbin said, when asked about the scenario Rogers outlined. “But I don’t think any decision has been made by either Sen. McConnell or [Senate Minority Leader Charles] Schumer [(D-N.Y.)].”

“What we hope is this will break the logjam and move us beyond continuing resolutions and into the world of appropriations,” Durbin said. “I sense that both sides want that to happen. Now there are ways for that to die on the vine. Poison pills, [defunding] Planned Parenthood and all the rest of them, and we don’t want that to occur. We’d like to get the funding of the government done without the complications of these deadly riders.”

Durbin also acknowledged the pressures of the calendar, which calls for considering a Supreme Court nominee before the two-week spring recess. But, he said, it still is possible for the bills to be dealt with by the deadline.

“I’m not saying that every appropriations bill can be finished,” Durbin said. “But certainly there are still many that are ready to move.”

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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