House Democrats on Thursday passed two spending bills that would reopen all of government, though Senate Republicans and the White House on the 13th day of the partial government shutdown voiced no interest in bringing the measures across the finish line.
On the opening day of the 116th Congress, the House voted on a consolidated package of bipartisan bills that came out of the Republican-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee during the just expired 115th Congress to provide full fiscal 2019 funding for the departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, State, Interior, Agriculture, Treasury, Commerce and Justice, as well as a number of independent agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Personnel Management and General Services Administration. It also passed stopgap funding through Feb. 8 for the Homeland Security Department.
While the new Democratic House majority was able to pass the bills without Republican support, the measures appear stymied, at least for the time being.
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“I would call it political theater, not productive lawmaking,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. said on the floor Thursday when opening up the chamber for the 116th Congress. “Let's not waste time. Let's not get off on the wrong foot.” McConnell reiterated he would not bring up any measure for a vote until the president announced his support for it.
Later on Thursday, the White House issued a veto threat for the Democratic bills.
“The administration is committed to working with the Congress to reopen lapsed agencies, but cannot accept legislation that provides unnecessary funding for wasteful programs while ignoring the nation’s urgent border security needs,” the White House said.
Trump has demanded $5 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The White House also criticized the Democratic bills, which were negotiated on a bipartisan basis and approved unanimously by the Senate Appropriations Committee last year, for funding “a number of unnecessary programs at excessive levels well beyond what was put forward” in Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget. The Homeland Security CR would continue the fiscal 2018 appropriation level of $1.3 billion for new border security measures.
More than 340,000 federal employees are currently on furlough without a guarantee of back pay, while an additional 500,000 are working but facing delayed paychecks.
Trump last week issued an executive order finalizing his proposal to freeze federal employees’ pay in 2019. The consolidated package of spending bills the House passed on Thursday, however, would override that order and provide civilian workers with a 1.9 percent pay bump. Senate negotiators agreed to that figure in 2018, but it never came up for a vote on the floor. Several Senate Democrats wrote a letter to Trump on Monday asking him to reverse course on the freeze, vowing to otherwise work “on a bipartisan basis” to ensure a raise occurs legislatively.
Congressional leaders from both parties will return to the White House on Friday to continue negotiations with Trump. Lawmakers said little progress was made during a Wednesday meeting with the president and that the standoff could last for several more weeks or even months.