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Indy DC Download: House moves to avoid government shutdown as dispute over wall funding bogs down the Senate

Humberto Sanchez
Humberto Sanchez
The U.S. Capitol

With the end of the fiscal year approaching and Congress at an impasse over finishing the appropriations process, the House last week easily passed temporary stop-gap spending legislation that would avoid a government shutdown if approved by the Senate.

The House vote came as Democrats opposed a proposed spending package in the Senate over efforts by Republicans to include $5 billion requested by President Donald Trump to build his Southern border wall, which would come from domestic spending programs. A previous fight over the wall funding led to a 35-day partial shutdown of the government in January, the longest in U.S. history.

Spending fight

Both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen joined all but two of their Democratic colleagues who voted against the spending proposal, which, on a 51 to 44 vote, fell short of the 60 votes needed to cut off debate and advance the measure.

“That bill would take $5 billion away from critical domestic programs that Nevadans rely on to fund the President’s medieval and wasteful border wall,” according to Cortez Masto’s office.  “The Senator believes in strong border security, yet what Senate Republicans chose to do is cut $5 billion from the House-passed appropriations legislation to fund the President’s ineffective wall and waste taxpayer dollars.”

The Senate vote was on a House-passed package of spending bills, but Democrats were concerned that if they voted to advance the measure, they would give Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell the opportunity to substitute the House bills with GOP-drafted measures that would provide $5 billion for the wall. Rosen’s office also noted that the package, which was expected to include a Republican defense spending bill and the Department of Energy’s appropriations measure, could have run the risk of a Senate vote on an amendment seeking to add spending to license a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

“Senator Rosen voted against this procedural motion that would have given Mitch McConnell the opportunity to jam through partisan appropriations bills, replacing the House bills with a package that cuts health and education funding to pay for a border wall,” her office said. ”Her vote also blocked possible floor consideration of amendments to fund Yucca mountain.”

Senate Democrats were also confident that the Senate would pass the temporary spending measure next week, which would fund the government through Nov. 21 and give Congress time beyond the Sept. 31 end of the fiscal year to work out a deal on the border wall issue. 

The House passed the so-called continuing resolution Thursday on a 301 to 123 vote, with the support of all members of the state’s congressional delegation. 

Despite his avowed dislike of stopgap-funding bills, Rep. Mark Amodei, who is a veteran member of the House Appropriations Committee and one of 76 House Republicans who voted for the measure, reasoned that it was better than the alternative, a government shutdown. 

“The only thing dumber than voting for a continuing resolution, is voting for a shutdown, so I picked the lesser of the two evils,” he said in a statement after the vote. 

He reiterated his belief that “government shutdowns are all for nothing as they are incredibly disruptive to people’s lives and federal agencies, while no progress is made on the issues.”

“I supported today’s spending bill because not only is it expected to be signed into law, but it continues current funding levels for the critical programs and agencies Americans rely on,” he continued.

NDAA and arbitration

The House held a few other votes of note, including a measure to name members of a conference committee that will square differences between the House and Senate versions of the annual defense policy bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA. The Senate also voted to go to conference with the House on the bill.

Among the differences that must be addressed is a provision in the Senate measure, which authorizes appropriations to backfill $3.6 billion in military construction projects throughout the country that were reprogrammed to build 175 miles of Trump’s wall along the Mexican border. The funds comes from 127 projects, but none in Nevada.

In connection with the vote to have its conferees work out differences on the NDAA with the Senate, House Republicans pushed for a vote on non-binding language to instruct the negotiators to keep the Senate provision, which failed 198 to 219.

All House Republicans voted for the measure, including Amodei. His office said that he looks forward to seeing what’s in the final bill, when asked about his vote.

“Following this week’s votes in the House, the congressman looks forward to House and Senate leaders coming together during the conferencing process to negotiate a responsible defense package that properly funds our nation’s critical defense programs,” his spokeswoman said. “I’m sure he’d be happy to discuss in greater detail with you after we see the actual bill he’ll be voting on.”

Amodei also voted against a Democratic-bill that would ban arbitration requirements that supporters argue prevent consumers from seeking justice in the courts when wronged by big business, such as credit card companies. Democratic members of the delegation supported the measure, which passed 225-186.

“This critically important measure restores access to justice for millions of Americans who are forced to settle their disputes against companies in a private system of arbitration that often favors the company over the individual,” said Rep. Steven Horsford in a release.

The Nevada Republican opposed the goal of the bill, his office said.

“It takes the unprecedented step of broadly invalidating pre-dispute arbitration clauses in existing contracts,” his office said. “Compared to litigation, arbitration benefits millions of claimants through a quicker, fairer, and more cost-efficient process. In fact, studies have shown that employees have prevailed more frequently, recovered more money, and resolved their claims more quickly in arbitration than litigation.”


Off the House and Senate floors, members of the delegation were busy. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi helped unveil legislation that would provide authority for the federal government to negotiate the prices of at least 25 and up to as many as 250 brand-name drugs for Medicare recipients.

“Prescription drug costs are sky high and people across the country are hurting,” Horsford said in a release. “These high drug prices are forcing Nevadans to have to choose between refilling a medication and paying their gas bill, or being able to eat every day. That is unacceptable. No one should be skipping life-saving medication so they can stretch their prescription out a bit further.”

While the measure will likely pass the House, it probably won’t see the floor in the Senate where McConnell told Politico the proposal was tantamount to “Socialist price controls.” The Senate is working on its own prescription drug plan, which was approved by the Senate Finance Committee, with the support of Cortez Masto, in July.

However, Trump praised Pelosi’s effort as well as push in the Senate.

Cortez Masto, Rosen and Horsford also introduced Senate and House version of a health care bill last week to exclude the income of their dependents when calculating their eligibility for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, so long as the dependent is enrolled at least part time in school or an apprenticeship, or participating in a job training program.

“My legislation will ensure middle class families continue to qualify for the credits that keep their health insurance affordable,” Cortez Masto said in a release. 

At a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the nomination of Eugene Scalia to be labor secretary, Rosen extracted a promise from the nominee to work with her, if confirmed, to implement electronic filing of occupation-related illness claims processed by Department of Labor.

Her question was motivated by atomic and energy workers, and those that work in dangerous environments such as those at the Nevada National Security Site.

“These hardworking Americans have sacrificed and served our country by working at test sites and other locations that are essential to defending our nation from attack,” she said. “The department made a change last spring that now requires two forms, one from the claimant and one from a physician, both of which must be mailed to the department. Will you commit to working to streamline the claims approval process, and specifically implementing an electronic claims process, so that energy workers – many of whom are sick, aging, or in chronic pain – can get the care they need?” 

Scalia said he would work with Rosen on the issue if his nomination is approved by the Senate.

Rep. Susie Lee gave a speech during the House Education and Labor Committee’s markup a legislation that would require the Department of Education, in consultation with the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, to annually report on statistics with regard to school shootings.

Her comments came in response to a Republican amendment that would have eliminated the portion of the measure requiring much of the data collection.

“I can't believe how upset I am that this amendment wants to strike all data elements,” Lee said, adding that “since day one I have been in this Congress, I have done everything to be bipartisan.” 

But she argued that the amendment “wants to avoid any discussion of gun violence and the undeniable role that guns play in making our schools and our communities less safe.

“What this bill does, the underlying bill, is it allows us to collect data, so that we have the ability to use that data to implement common sense policy that saves lives and protects kids,” Lee continued. “What is the problem with that?”

The amendment was defeated on a 22 to 25 party line vote. The bill was also approved on a party line vote, 27 to 22. 

Rep. Dina Titus welcomed a Department of Education announcement that high-need Las Vegas elementary schools would get $2.5 million over five years through the ReInvent Schools program. The funds were obtained through a grant competition held by the DOE’s Office of Innovation and Improvement Full Service Community Schools Program. Of the $2.5 million, $500,000 will be awarded this year. 

UNLV, the City of Las Vegas and the Clark County School District applied for the funds. Titus wrote a letter in April to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in support of the grant application.

“Outstanding news! Earlier this year, I wrote to @usedgov asking for federal funds to help ReInvent Schools Las Vegas bring much-need resources to elementary schools in our community. Today they were granted nearly $500,000 to help students in Las Vegas,” Titus wrote on Twitter

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.

Legislation sponsored
S. 2497 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exclude certain dependent income when calculating modified adjusted gross income for the purposes of eligibility for premium tax credits.
Legislation co-sponsored
S. 2505 – A bill to provide that Executive Order 13783 and certain rules shall have no force or effect, and for other purposes.
S. 2485 – A bill to prohibit Federal agencies from using Government funds to pay for expenses at lodging establishments that are owned by or employ certain public officials or their relatives.
S. 2482 – A bill to prohibit the use of Federal funds to carry out the final rule of the Department of Homeland Security entitled "Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds".
Legislation co-sponsored:
S. 2497 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exclude certain dependent income when calculating modified adjusted gross income for the purposes of eligibility for premium tax credits.
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 4390 – To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act by striking marijuana use, possession, and distribution as grounds of inadmissibility and removal.
H.R. 4363 – Commission on Americans Living Abroad Act of 2019
H.R. 4349 – Travel Trailer and Camper Tax Parity Act
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 4397 – To award grants for the recruitment, retention, and advancement of direct care workers.
H.R. 4379 – To amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to require qualified health plans to have in place a process to remove from publicly accessible provider directories of such plans providers that are no longer within the network of such plans, and for other purposes.
H.R. 4334 – Dignity in Aging Act of 2019
Legislation sponsored:
H.R. 4417 – To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exclude certain dependent income when calculating modified adjusted gross income for the purposes of eligibility for premium tax credits.


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