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Senate side of the U.S. Capitol. Picture by Humberto Sanchez

Despite taking a historic, party-line House vote impeaching President Donald Trump, Congress last week approved two spending packages totaling $1.4 trillion, which averted a government shutdown, included $65.2 million for Nellis Air Force Base and renewed a tourism marketing program.

As Congress departed for its holiday recess, the Senate approved the packages on two separate votes Thursday following House action on the measures on Tuesday. Most members of the delegation voted for the legislation. Rep. Dina Titus opposed one of the two.

Those votes came as the Senate approved the annual defense policy bill and the House approved a trade deal between the U.S.-Mexico-Canada, known as the USMCA. All delegation members of their respective chambers supported those measures.

Impeachment

The Democratic-controlled House Wednesday approved two articles of impeachment against Trump with the state’s House members splitting along party lines.

The GOP-run Senate is expected to hold a trial next month.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she does not yet plan to send the articles to the Senate, which would trigger the trial. The idea is to try to give Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer leverage as he negotiates the rules of the trial with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“We would like to see a fair process, but we'll see what they have,” Pelosi said Thursday.

McConnell raised the hackles of Democrats, including Pelosi, when he said recently that he would coordinate with the White House counsel's office on the impeachment trial. 

But it’s unclear that Pelosi has any leverage. McConnell, in a speech on the floor Thursday, said: “I’m not sure what ‘leverage’ there is in refraining from sending us something we do not want.”

Titus, a Democrat, said it's a strategy that could help and has no downside.

“I don't think it hurts,” she said adding “I'm not sure what it gains us.”

“But if there's a possibility it gets us something, it’s worth doing,” she continued. “If you can hold it for some leverage because they want to get this done and get it over with so they say that he's been exonerated, maybe we can get some conditions on the trial. And if we can’t, we're no worse off than we are now.” 

McConnell said he and Schumer “remain at an impasse” over how to proceed once the articles are sent from the House. Schumer has asked for four witnesses, including former National Security Advisor John Bolton and Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

McConnell has rejected that request and said he would like to handle the issue of witnesses at a later date, after the Senate negotiates the initial groundwork, such as scheduling and early steps like opening arguments.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said Thursday she supports a “full trial with all the evidence and witnesses.”

“The president wants a fair trial, so I think that’s what we should give him: a full trial,” she added.

Appropriations

The two spending packages Congress sent to the president included an aggregation of national security spending bills that totaled $858 billion, most of which ($695 billion) went to the Pentagon. 

The national security package was approved on 81 to 11 vote in the Senate and 280 to 138 vote in the House. 

Rep. Steven Horsford highlighted funding in the package for a 3.1 percent pay raise for service members and federal civilian employees, the largest in a decade, and for 12 weeks of parental leave for all federal workers.

“Those who serve in our military or have served in the past have made incalculable sacrifices and this spending bill allows us to repay them by investing in our military bases and installations across the country,” Horsford said.

He also cited $7.6 billion to the Census Bureau, which was $3.7 billion above the previous fiscal year level. Horsford leads the Congressional Black Caucus’s Census 2020 Task Force, which seeks to help ensure an accurate count, especially of minorities.

The measure also extended Brand USA for seven years. The program, which was set to expire next year, markets tourism to the U.S. abroad.

“We were able to extend funding for @BrandUSA to continue marketing Las Vegas to international travelers,” Titus said on Twitter.

The legislation also included $1.4 billion for the border barrier system along the southwest border. Titus cited the funding as the reason she opposed the package. She also referenced Trump's emergency declaration, which allowed him to redirect $6.1 billion of previously appropriated funding for wall construction, including $3.6 billion from military construction projects around the world. 

“I could not vote in good conscience to reward this Administration with over a billion dollars in border wall funding after they’ve stolen money from our troops to build an ineffective barrier,” Titus said in a release. “We must stand up stronger to Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda,” Titus said in a release.

Funding for the border fence, a Trump campaign promise, had been a sticking point during spending negotiations. The funding level is $3.6 billion below what the president sought in his budget blueprint.

The other spending package totaled $528 billion and was more focused on domestic programs, including $65.2 million for military construction projects at Nellis Air Force Base.

Members of the delegation celebrated the fact that the measure included no funding for storing nuclear waste in Nevada, including building a national repository at Yucca Mountain.

“I worked relentlessly with my colleagues in Nevada and in Congressional leadership to keep funding for Yucca Mountain out of the 2020 funding bills that just passed,” Titus said. “I'm proud to announce that we won that fight.” 

Rep. Mark Amodei, while he lamented the growth in the deficit, supported both bills and praised funding for the Department of Interior operations including wildland fire management, Lake Tahoe restoration efforts, hazardous fuels reductions, watershed restoration and the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program. The agency received $13.5 billion in the package, $545 million over the previous fiscal year.

The measure included legislation introduced by Cortez Masto to require the Department of Housing and Urban Development to develop guidelines for accessing funding for state and local governments that choose to use manufactured housing to meet affordable housing needs.

Sen. Jacky Rosen noted that the legislation includes an amendment she offered to provide $4 million to help combat invasive species in Lake Tahoe.

The legislation also included a tax component, which repealed three Affordable Care Act (ACA) taxes, including the Cadillac Tax, a 40 percent excise tax under the ACA on employer plans exceeding $10,200 in premiums a year for individuals and $27,500 for families.

The medical device tax was also repealed. Imposed under the ACA to help offset the cost of the law, it was never implemented with Congress delaying the tax since its passage in 2010. Lastly, the Health Insurance Tax (HIT) was repealed. A fee charged to health insurers on their health policy premiums that are passed through to consumers raising the cost of insurance. 

Three things that were not included in the tax portion of the package were an extension of the tax credit for residential and commercial solar projects.

Members of the delegation, including Cortez Masto, had been pushing for extensions of the solar credit, which would drop from 30 percent to 26 percent next year and phase out completely in 2022 for residential users and plateau at 10 percent for commercial users. 

Raising the 200,000 car-sold-cap on the subsidy for electric vehicles, which Tesla and General Motors are closing to hitting, was also left out, as was the creation of a new credit for energy storage systems.

Cortez Masto said she’d renew the fight next year. “We haven't given up and there's going to be negotiations next year,” she said.

USMCA and NDAA

The House approved the USMCA trade deal, which, once approved by the Senate, would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). All of the state’s House members supported the agreement.

Mexico and Canada are the state’s two largest trading partners and in 2017 Nevada sent a total of $1.7 billion in exports to those countries, including $1.1 billion to Canada and $606 million to Mexico. 

“Without a doubt, the USMCA will lead to freer markets, fairer trade, and increased export opportunities for America’s farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs, and manufacturers,” Amodei said.

Horsford said that trade with Canada and Mexico supports nearly 17,000 jobs in his congressional district and that $357 million in goods and services are exported from the district to Canada and Mexico each year.

Democrats managed to remove a provision in the deal that would have given 10 years of marketing exclusivity for biologic drugs, which they said would have kept drug prices high for cancer treatments for other ailments.

“This restriction would have made it harder to domestically bring down the price of prescription drugs, something I am committed to doing,” said Rep. Susie Lee, who stressed that the deal showed that Congress can work across party lines.

The Senate is expected to take the measure up after the impeachment trial.

Meanwhile, the Senate approved the annual national defense authorization act (NDAA), which now goes to the president to be signed into law. The chamber passed the bill 86 to 8, with both the state’s senators voting for the legislation. The measure was approved by the House earlier this month 377 to 48. 

“Overall this is a great bill for Nevada, the home of the fighter pilot for both the Air Force and Navy, the largest remotely piloted aircraft  mission for the Air Force, and the only place in the country where subcritical experiments are conducted to verify the viability of our nuclear stockpile,” said Rosen.

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 sponsored:

S. 3145 – A bill to extend the withdrawal and reservation of certain public land in the State of Nevada for the continued use of the Nevada test and training range, to designate certain land in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 3126 – A bill to amend the Public Health Service Act to authorize a special behavioral health program for Indians.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 3145 – A bill to extend the withdrawal and reservation of certain public land in the State of Nevada for the continued use of the Nevada test and training range, to designate certain land in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, and for other purposes.

S. 3117 – A bill to create dedicated funds to conserve butterflies in North America, plants in the Pacific Islands, freshwater mussels in the United States, and desert fish in the Southwest United States, and for other purposes.

S. 3056 – A bill to designate as wilderness certain Federal portions of the red rock canyons of the Colorado Plateau and the Great Basin Deserts in the State of Utah for the benefit of present and future generations of people in the United States.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation sponsored:

H.R.5469 – To address mental health issues for youth, particularly youth of color, and for other purposes.

This story was updated on Dec. 24 at 12:23 p.m. to note Rep. Dina Titus' opposition to the national security-related spending package approved by the House.

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