May 01, 2017
While the rest of the city was enjoying an unusually warm weekend, the Hill's budgeters spent Saturday and Sunday indoors, hashing out a whopping 11 appropriations bills. After clocking out at 1:30 a.m. Friday morning, staffers put in plenty of overtime the next few days on a $1 trillion package that bundles almost a dozen agencies' budgets into one colossal omnibus. And as usual, some of the most important language came through policy riders, which usually latch on to big spending measures like this one.
At 2:00 a.m. this morning, the final product went public -- 1,665 pages of light reading for members, whose task is to pass the raft of budgets by Friday, when their week-long extension of government funding runs out. Of course, the House and Senate are so behind on routine appropriations business that the omnibus only carries the government through September, when the next fiscal year kicks off. By Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) calculations, Congress is already behind on the next batch of negotiations. If they have any hope of getting Congress back on a regular schedule, they'll be teeing up these same budgets for more fierce negotiations as soon as this measure clears the chambers.
In the warm-up act for what's sure to be a more intense debate, President Trump won some -- and lost some. Although the White House didn't get the money for the major sticking point -- a Mexican wall -- he did come out on top in border security funding, which got a $1.5 billion boost. The GOP's other major priority -- upping Defense and military spending -- was a success, but at half the $30 billion level Trump had hoped for. Still, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) pointed out, Republicans managed to raise "resources for our defense needs without corresponding increases in non-defense spending."
For conservatives, the highlights didn't end there. In a major change from the Obama years, sexual risk avoidance programs (abstinence education) continued its steady climb in funding, winning another $5 million from the still-lopsided federal pool. A total of $15 million is now available to encourage teenagers with the healthy message of saving sex. Unfortunately, the Left's comprehensive sex ed programs will still rake in $101 million, but the ratio is slowly tilting away from the "if-it-feels-good-do-it-with-a-condom" approach. What was once a 10-to-one advantage for the Left's approach is dwindling to six-to-10. Finally, legislators are starting to wake up to the CDC's reports and polling about the fallout from Obama's method. Let's hope that uptick continues in the FY 18 negotiations until parents and teenagers get the curriculum they want.
Speaking of decency, you can file this one under the "We can't believe this is necessary" category, but the GOP did manage to add the Jones Pornography on Federal Networks amendment to the new appropriations bills. In the past, the language, which withholds money from agencies that don't block pornography on their computer networks, only applied to a handful of offices. Now, after a rash of porn scandals at the EPA, Missile Defense Agency, NASA, and others, it's been expanded to include everyone except the State Department and Transportation Housing and Urban Development.
On the pro-life front, the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) will technically get the same $32.5 million in funding it enjoyed last year -- but thanks to President Trump, every cent will be redirected into the general foreign aid account to be funneled to other entities, since the group violated federal law by promoting forced abortion. To the delight of pro-lifers, the Fund itself won't receive any funding as a result. Here at home, Title X family planning is enjoying the same taxpayer support that it had last year: $286.5 million. Some states, though, will enjoy telling Planned Parenthood to take a hike, now that President Trump has signed a bill giving local governments the right to exclude Cecile Richards's group from that pot of money.
For those of you reading the media reports that the GOP didn't cut Planned Parenthood funding in the omnibus, there's a reason for that. A bill like this one requires 60 votes, whereas the budget reconciliation measure -- which is how Republicans are handling the repeal of Obamacare and the defunding of Planned Parenthood -- only needs 51. (And, as most people know by now, that same language already has a track record of success, passing Congress in 2015.) What's more, adding that provision as a rider on discretionary spending bills like this one wouldn't affect the mandatory spending programs, which also finance Planned Parenthood. Republicans are committed to severing ties with the group, but the omnibus isn't the tool to do it. Until then, we're keeping up the fight for a plan that recognizes: abortion isn't health care!
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.