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House approves ‘minibus’ spending package

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The House's passage of a $147 billion 'minibus' spending package moves the ball forward for three of the 12 annual federal appropriation bills, all of which must receive congressional approval by Oct. 1

Earlier this month, the House approved a 2019 “minibus” appropriations spending package consisting of three appropriations bills on a 234 to 179 vote. The legislation included the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Energy and Water and Legislative Branch appropriations language previously approved by the House Appropriations Committee.

The package received some bipartisan support, but was opposed by many Democrats due to provisions in the Energy and Water portion of the bill, which they argued would weaken environmental protections and hinder renewable energy development.

Despite these objections, the passage of this $147 billion measure moves the ball forward for three of the 12 annual federal appropriation bills, all of which must receive congressional approval by the start of the new fiscal year (Oct.  1, 2018). These three bills could now be approved by the Senate, although zero-tolerance immigration issues have now captured the Senate’s attention, pushing aside other legislation.


Military Construction – Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill

The “minibus” package included $86.4 billion in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), including $71.2 billion for VA medical care. This represents a $3.9 billion funding increase over FY2018 funding levels and marks the highest level of funding for the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill. The Military-VA portion of the bill enjoyed broad bipartisan support throughout the budget process.

Within the VA, $8.6 billion would be appropriated for mental health care services and $7.4 billion would be allocated to treat homeless veterans, including about $1.77 billion for homeless prevention programs run by the VA, such as the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. Further, opioid prevention and treatment programs would receive over $386 million to help stem the crisis’ disproportionate impact on veterans. This opioid funding would also go toward ensuring non-VA care providers that treat veterans are following VA standards for opioid safety.

Notably, the minibus does not include additional funding for the VA Mission Act, which was recently signed into law by President Trump. The new law consolidates VA’s community care programs into a single program and shifts funding for non-VA care from mandatory to discretionary. This means that non-VA care, including under the VA Mission Act, will be subject to the annual appropriations process and must be funded each year.

The Senate Appropriations Committee included a similar funding level to the House in its Military Construction-VA Appropriations bill. Senate leaders have also indicated that they plan to address funding for the new non-VA care program in their appropriations measure.


Energy and Water Appropriations Bill

The House “minibus” also includes the $44.7 billion FY2019 Energy and Water Appropriations bill. The bill funds the Department of Energy (DOE), Army Corps of Engineers civil works program, Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and several other federal government agencies. The Energy and Water Appropriations bill is important to counties because it funds federal energy, water and flooding-related infrastructure projects.

Of importance to counties, the following programs and agencies are addressed in the bill:

Department of Energy: The bill contains $35.5 billion for DOE, $974 million above FY2018 levels. Most notably, DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), which works to develop and promote clean, affordable and secure energy, would see its budget reduced $2.08 billion. This is a decrease of $2.32 billion under the FY2018 enacted budget of $2.32 billion.

The bill also includes $267.7 million for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada. This provision is relevant for counties with nuclear waste facilities, most of which were not designed to store spent nuclear fuel indefinitely. NACo supports construction of a suitable permanent nuclear waste repository, as well as the use of a central interim storage facility until such a site can be completed.

Army Corps of Engineers civil works program: The Army Corps is tasked with building, maintaining and operating coastal and inland waterways, addressing flooding risk and strengthening ecosystem restoration through their civil works program. Under the House-passed bill, the Corps would receive $7.28 billion for FY2019, $451 million above FY 2018 levels.

Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS): The bill also includes a policy rider to expedite the repeal of the 2015 WOTUS rule issued under the Obama Administration. The EPA is currently in the process of withdrawing the 2015 rule and issuing a new rule in its replacement.

Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill

Finally, the “minibus” includes $4.9 billion for Legislative Branch Appropriations for FY2019, an $180 million increase over FY 2018 funding levels. Considered noncontroversial, the bill sets discretionary spending for the House of Representatives, the Library of Congress, the Capitol Police and various legislative agencies.

The bill does not include an automatic-cost-of-living salary increase for members of Congress. The annual $174,000 salary for rank-and-file members has been in place since 2009.

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