Indy DC Download: The House approved a two-year spending caps and debt limit deal that helps avert a government shutdown

Nevada News

Before leaving for its summer break, the House approved a two-year agreement that would increase spending by $320 billion over the next two years and suspend the debt limit until 2021, helping minimize the possibility of a politically damaging spending fight ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

The House action came as the Senate last week confirmed six of President Donald Trump’s nominees, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday. Both Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen voted for Esper’s nomination, who was approved by the Senate 90 to 8.

“I voted today to confirm @EsperDoD as @DeptofDefense Sec., ending the 7-months vacancy for this critical role,” Cortez Masto wrote on Twitter. “Mr Esper has served the nation honorably in uniform & as @SecArmy. I look forward to working w/him on nat’l security issues & to advocate for our men & women in uniform.”

The post has been filled with acting secretaries since Gen. Jim Mattis retired in January. Trump said in May that he planned to nominate Patrick Shanahan, but Shanahan withdrew from consideration in June in connection with a story by The Washington Post about his actions to defend his son after the son severely beat his mother with a baseball bat in 2011.

The two senators also voted for General Mark Milley to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Next week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced, the chamber will consider 19 of Trump’s nominees to be district judges.

Budget deal

The House’s 284 to 149 vote to approve the budget deal was backed by all of Nevada’s Democrats. The Senate is expected to pass the package next week before leaving for the August recess, and President Donald Trump has signaled he is prepared to sign the agreement.

Trump praised the House after the vote. “I am pleased to announce the House has passed our budget deal 284-149. Great for our Military and our Vets. A big thank you!,” he said.

Trump’s support wasn’t enough to win over many House Republicans. Their votes were not needed, however, to approve the package given that House Democrats provided 219 votes, which alone would have been enough to approve the measure.  

Only 65 House Republicans voted for the package and 132 opposed it. GOP Rep. Mark Amodei was among those voting against the package, in part because of the ballooning deficit, which the White House projected will hit $1 trillion in 2019, after reaching $890 billion in 2018.

“The annual deficit is back to where it was when I got here eight years ago,” Amodei said.”We had that cut to about half and there was more work to be done and it’s like what happened, because we’re back to where we were.”

Amodei said he believes the issue of the deficit has not been a priority for either party in other administrations and the leadership in both chambers. 

“There have been decisions made by successive administrations, maybe even more than the last two, probably more, and decisions made by the leadership on both sides, in both houses during that time frame where, quite frankly, it’s not a priority,” he continued.

He likened the thinking on spending to being a cancer patient.

“It’s almost like, you’re going to have to go in and get chemotherapy at some point in time,” Amodei said. “But not yet. You’re pre-cancerous and not cancerous.”

Amodei said that there needs to be a bipartisan effort to address the matter. Much of the deficit is driven by entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, the costs of which are increasing as baby boomers retire and age. 

But he also noted that the spending caps removed in the budget deal were imposed by a 2011 bipartisan deficit-cutting law, known as the Budget Control Act, that enacted automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, if Congress spent money above the caps.

“Well, we know that didn’t happen,” he said about the threat of sequestration being a motivation to rein in spending, as intended by the law.

The agreement avoids $125 billion in across-the-board sequestration cuts that would hit key programs favored by both parties, including in defense and domestic spending. Instead, raises spending by $320 billion over existing spending caps, which includes a $165 billion increase for defense and $131 billion for non-defense spending over the next two years. 

The deal also includes $77 million in offsets and would suspend the statutory debt limit, which is the amount the federal government is allowed to borrow, through July 2021, which avoids a default on the nation’s debt. The nation was poised to hit the limit as soon as late summer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned Congress in May

Congress still has to pass the 12 annual spending bills to avoid a government shutdown, but the deal helps significantly by setting top-line spending levels for defense and nondefense spending.

The legislation would ramp up defense spending to $738 billion and nondefense spending to $632 billion for fiscal year 2020. Defense and nondefense spending came in at $716 billion and $605 billion, respectively, for fiscal year 2019. Those spending levels would increase to $740 billion and $634.5 billion, respectively, in fiscal 2021.  

The House also voted, 264 to 169, for legislation to create an office within the Treasury Department that would allow multiemployer pension plans to borrow money to remain solvent.

“Pensions are a promise to workers, one that must be kept, and I am proud today to vote to protect these hard-earned retirement benefits,” said Rep. Steven Horsford.

Reps. Dina Titus and Susie Lee also voted for the bill, but Amodei opposed it because he said it provided no reforms and no offsets. 

“Are some of these plans that you’re going to provide this assistance to still going to have the same managers when it’s over?” he asked. “I mean, it’s just bad business.”

Immigration

The House also considered three immigration-related measures, including a proposal to extend Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans. TPS is a program designed to help refugees from countries destabilized by war or other disasters.

The bill was approved 272 to 158 with all Democrats backing the bill. Most Republicans, including Amodei, opposed the legislation.

The Nevada Republican has been a vocal proponent of providing a pathway to citizenship for those brought to this country illegally as children, known as DREAMers, many of which participate in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He also backs a pathway for those currently on TPS, which, as of late 2017, included more than 4,400 people who live in Nevada, according to the Congressional Research Service.

To that end, he believes Congress should act on the status DREAMers and existing TPS participants rather than take on a new category of refugee.  

“At least take some of the low hanging fruit; hook up no-issues DREAMers, which is the vast majority of them,” Amodei said. “Give us movement on something instead of adding the (Venezuela) TPS thing and continuing to ignore the rest of that stuff, much of which is bipartisan.”

House Democrats also passed legislation to improve the conditions for those in the custody of the Customs and Border Protection while they seek asylum. The bill, which passed 233 to 195, comes as detainees complain of poor hygiene and harsh treatment. The Dallas Morning News reported last week on one who said he spent 23 days in CPB custody without opportunity to bathe. 

All Democrats again voted for the bill, but Amodei opposed the measure, chalking it up as a political-point scoring effort.

“It’s a great political thing, I guess, for people who want to continue to drive that wedge on,” Amodei said.

He said he doesn’t “begrudge anybody having health care, and having access to it,” but he added that CPB doesn’t get to choose when the waves of people come and contends that CPB’s standard of care are generally very high.

“And so when they come, you got to deal with them,” Amodei continued. “And by the way, their standard of care is better than most people [receive] in most towns.”

Republicans did manage to score a victory when their motion to recommit (MTR) was approved by the House. An MTR gives the minority a final attempt to amend legislation. The GOP MTR commended the Border Patrol “for carrying out their duty during this incredibly challenging humanitarian crisis in a professional manner.”

The Republican proposal passed 239 to 192 with 41 Democrats joining all Republicans voting for the MTR. Horsford and Lee were among the Democrats to back the measure.

Lee visited the border earlier this month and her vote reflected what she saw on the visit.

“I saw our law enforcement officials on the ground doing their best with the little resources they have, and I certainly think their hard work deserves commendation,”  Lee said in a statement provided by her office. “What is also clear is that our immigration system as a whole is broken. In order to secure our border and ensure the health and safety of those legally immigrating to our country, we need comprehensive immigration reform.” 

Titus was the only Democrat in the delegation to vote against the MTR. According to her office, she voted against the proposal because it made no mention of the former and current CPB employees who joined Facebook groups that joked about migrant deaths and posted vulgar memes of New York Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who has been critical of Trump administration immigration policy.

She condemned the agency after the group was discovered.

“The @CBP officials who made bigoted and sexist remarks behind the comfort of their keyboards should be fired immediately. The Trump Administration’s family separation policy has helped create a toxic anti-immigrant culture among law enforcement officials at the border,” she wrote on Twitter. 

In the Senate, Rosen gave a speech on the Senate floor Thursday calling for improved conditions for children detained by CPB, including access to pediatric care and child welfare services on site, as well as oversight by nongovernmental organizations to ensure accountability.

“This is the United States of America, and the way we are treating migrant families and children at the border goes against our core values, the very values that make this country great. Congress must act now,” she said. “We must ensure that we achieve, at the very least, minimum humanitarian standards at CBP facilities.” 

Miscellany

Some members of the delegation weighed in on the testimony of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller who testified in the House last week on his report on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential.

Their comments fell along party lines, with Democrats stressing part of the report and testimony that painted Trump in a poor light.

“He plainly stated that President Trump could be indicted once he leaves office. There is now more evidence that the President committed serious crimes,” Titus said in a release. “While Republicans in Congress refuse to protect our elections and continue to ignore President Trump’s effort to obstruct the investigation into the Russian attack on our democracy, I will continue to follow the facts and demand the truth because no person is above the law.”

Titus is helping investigate whether the General Services Administration (GSA), which oversees the federal government’s real estate, ran afoul of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause after Trump was elected president with regard to the lease for the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C. to the Trump Organization. The property was converted into a Trump hotel, which opened in 2016. 

Before the hearing, Amodei dismissed it as a distraction. 

“This is not new,” he said. “He released his report. He did his investigation on stuff…you know, there’s other things going on.”

Cortez Masto picked up on Mueller’s comment about Russia’s plan to interfere in the 2020 election and voiced her support for legislation to provide grants to states to modernize their election infrastructure so every vote cast in federal elections is secure. She called on Republicans, who control the agenda in the Senate to take up the measure.

Horsford is leading a task force launched by the Congressional Black Caucus to encourage participation in 2020 census. 

“Through his leadership, the taskforce will meet with African American leaders from around the country to discuss the current state of play and the tools needed for effective outreach to hard to count communities,” said CBC Chairwoman Rep. Karen Bass of California in a release

The work of the census taskforce will also help ensure a fair distribution of congressional seats. Nevada gained a congressional seat—for a total of four—after the 2010 census and could be in a position to gain a fifth following an accurate census count. Additionally, for every Nevadan who isn’t counted in the census, the state could lose about $20,000 in federal funding, according to Horsford’s office.  

“I am taking part in this task force for my constituents in Nevada,” Horsford said. “Undercounting urban communities like mine can result in an unfair distribution of congressional seats and deny communities of color, specifically Black communities, access to representation in Congress. We only get one chance every ten years to get this right. Let’s make it count.”

 For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO
Legislation co-sponsored
S. 2256 – A bill to protect children affected by immigration enforcement actions.
S. 2223 – A bill to facilitate a national pipeline of spectrum for commercial use, and for other purposes.
S. 2203– A bill to extend the transfer of Electronic Travel Authorization System fees from the Travel Promotion Fund to the Corporation for Travel Promotion (Brand USA) through fiscal year 2027, and for other purposes.
SEN. JACKY ROSEN
Legislation co-sponsored:
S. 2254 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to create a Pension Rehabilitation Trust Fund, to establish a Pension Rehabilitation Administration within the Department of the Treasury to make loans to multiemployer defined benefit plans, and for other purposes.
REP. DINA TITUS
Legislation sponsored:
H.R. 3874 – To protect human rights and enhance opportunities for LGBTI people around the world, and for other purposes.
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 3382 – To amend the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act to provide pay equity for amateur athletes and other personnel.
REP. SUSIE LEE
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 3917 – To prohibit the use of funds for the 2026 World Cup unless the United States Soccer Federation provides equitable pay to the members of the United States Women’s National Team and the United States Men’s National Team.
REP. STEVEN HORSFORD
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 3882 – To amend the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act to provide pay equity for amateur athletes and other personnel.

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