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July 9 — The fate of a nearly $30.2 billion piece of legislation to fund the Interior Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies for the upcoming fiscal year is in serious doubt after an unexpected reversal from House Republicans.
The House was scheduled to cast a final vote on the spending bill (H.R. 2822) July 9 after dozens of hours of debate. However, less than four hours before this vote, Republican leaders announced they had removed the bill from consideration.
They did this to shield their members from having to cast a politically risky vote on the display of Confederate flags in national parks and federal cemeteries.
Now, congressional staff members tell Bloomberg BNA that they're unsure when—or even if—the bill will be brought back to the House floor.
On July 7, Democrats introduced three amendments to the spending bill that would have directed the National Park Service to prohibit the display of any Confederate flags in parks or cemeteries. All three amendments were adopted on unrecorded voice votes.
The following day, House Republicans from Southern states asked their leaders to introduce another amendment to the bill that would have allowed Confederate flags to be displayed on grave sites in federal cemeteries, according to a statement from Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), the bill's sponsor.
Calvert introduced the amendment late in the evening of July 8. Democrats immediately denounced it and requested that a roll call vote be held on its adoption the following day.
“Looking back, I regret not conferring with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle,” Calvert said in a statement after the bill was withdrawn, “and fully explaining [the amendment's] intent given the strong feelings Members of the House feel regarding this important and sensitive issue.”
Even before the Confederate flag amendments were added to it, there were signs of trouble for the Interior/EPA bill.
Democrats have been threatening to block the Senate version of the bill from coming to the floor, along with all other federal spending bills the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved. They object to the sequester-level funding in the bills, as well as what they consider many ideological policy riders.
The White House has also formally threatened numerous times to veto the House and Senate bills for the same reasons.
Democrats say they will block all spending bills until Republicans agree to convene a series of negotiations to revise or remove the sequester's budget caps. If Congress is unable to pass spending bills before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, it would need to pass a continuing resolution that temporarily funds the government or face another shutdown.
Matt Dennis, a minority spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee, told Bloomberg BNA that there has been no indication so far that Republicans are willing to engage in any budget negotiations.
Dennis said that, given what occurred on the House floor, the Interior/EPA spending bill may be the last piece of appropriations legislation the House takes up this year.
Democrats have shown they're willing to force Republicans to cast tough votes on politically sensitive amendments to these bills, and Republicans may not want to cast these votes for bills that don't even have a chance to become law, he said.
A Republican staff member on the House Appropriations Committee told Bloomberg BNA that the Interior/EPA bill is only on a “temporary hiatus,” but said there is no timetable for bringing it back to the floor for a vote.
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Rep. Calvert's amendment is available at http://repcloakroom.house.gov/uploadedfiles/intfy16calvert.pdf.
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