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Trump signs spending bill with no funding for Yucca and no fix for DREAMers

Humberto Sanchez
Humberto Sanchez
CongressEnergyImmigrationYucca Mountain
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President Donald Trump signed a $1.3 trillion spending package that provided no funding for a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain and included a provision to boost wildfire-suppression funding, two issues of special interest in Nevada.

The measure, signed into law Friday, also omitted a fix for young undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers, leaving unaddressed a matter that affects 13,000 young Nevada residents.

Trump had sparked fears of a government shutdown that would have started at midnight Friday when he said earlier in the day that he was considering vetoing the bill over the overall price tag and what he called a lack of sufficient funding to build a wall along the southern border. He had sought $25 billion for the wall, which he had tied to a fix for DREAMers. The bill included only $1.6 billion for the wall.

Trump said he ultimately signed the bill because of $700 billion for the military, which is a $66 billion increase over the last fiscal year.

“I was thinking about doing the veto, but because of the incredible gains that we’ve been able to make for the military, that overrode any of our thinking,” Trump told reporters after a press conference Friday.

Trump’s action came after the Senate approved the bill early Friday morning on a 65 to 32 vote after the House passed the measure 256 to 167.

Nevada’s senators — Dean Heller, a Republican, and Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat — both voted for the package, touting the lack of funding for Yucca and inclusion of funds for first responders that could help cover law-enforcement overtime costs incurred as a result of the Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas.

In the House, Rep. Mark Amodei, a Republican, and Rep. Jacky Rosen, a Democrat, both voted for the bill while Reps. Dina Titus and Ruben Kihuen, both Democrats, opposed the legislation.

Amodei’s vote in support came despite concerns about the $1.3 trillion cost and the fact that the 2,220-plus page bill was unveiled less than 24 hours before the House vote, which left his office scrambling to comb through the vast measure.

“The process sucks,” Amodei said after the House approved the measure.

The Nevada Republican said that after the bill was released Wednesday evening, his office divided it up among the staff into roughly 200-page sections for each to read through.

“If the question is ‘did you read 2,200 pages,’ no I didn’t, but we used staff and a little bit of, hopefully, resourcefulness,” he said.

Ideally, both the House and Senate would each pass all 12 annual spending bills individually, then work out compromises between their respective measures, which they would send to the president for his signature.

But Congress rarely has achieved that as partisanship gridlock has set in, instead typically passing short-term stopgap measures, and eventually massive packages that include all the bills, known as an omnibus. It is a process that lawmakers, including Amodei, abhor. 

He called the package a “mixed bag” with some wins for Nevada, including a provision to boost fire-suppression funding, but nothing for DREAMers, a group which Amodei has supported.

“I’m still frustrated because there’s no” fix in the bill for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Amodei said.

DACA is the program that currently shields the DREAMers from deportation. But their future remains in question until legal challenges to the program are decided by the courts.

Amodei has been one of the few outspoken GOP members on the issue and has signed onto a Democratic resolution to force a vote on a bill that would legalize DREAMers who meet certain requirements and provide them with a path to citizenship.

He praised a provision in the package that ends “fire borrowing,” which is when federal agencies divert funds from forest-health and fire-prevention programs to fight wildfires.

“Now those land management agencies … don’t have to rob their forest-health and range-health accounts to pay for fire suppression because quite frankly, we’re not doing any forest health or range health, we’re just putting them out,” Amodei said.

The provision creates a $20 billion fire suppression fund that can be tapped between 2020 and 2027, beyond the regular fire-suppression funding to prevent raiding of the funds designated for forest and range health.  

Last year was an active year for wildfires in the state, with over 650 burning simultaneously at one point.  

Rosen said she voted for the measure despite the fact that it did not include funding to help cover the cost of health-care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“While I'm disappointed this omnibus does not include important provisions to stabilize health care or protect our DREAMers, this compromise legislation includes a number of important provisions that will help Nevada’s hardworking families,” Rosen said in a release.

Rosen has said that health care will be a big issue in her campaign to replace Sen. Dean Heller, who is up for re-election in November. Heller has been a critic of the ACA, and he led an effort to replace the law, a move that drew fire from fellow Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has been supportive of the ACA.

Titus and Kihuen also cited the last-minute release of the bill as one reason they opposed it, but the lawmakers also cited the DREAMers.

“The bill fails on many fronts, which is why I voted no on final passage,” Titus said in a statement.

Along with the need to fix DACA, Kihuen also noted the bill’s failure to address gun violence. The bill “utterly fails to address massive issues facing our country,” he said in a release.

All members of the delegation, except for Amodei, praised the fact that the bill does not fund the proposal to build a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Amodei has said he wants the government to continue to study the site.

The bill also forbids spending federal funds to prosecute the state’s medical-marijuana patients and businesses, prevents the potential mass slaughter of wild horses and burros as well as prohibits funding for meat inspectors to allow for horse-meat slaughter operations, according to Titus.

In the Senate, Heller was quick to point out the package’s lack of Yucca funding, which he has pledged to block at all costs.

‘Whether it’s securing additional emergency law enforcement funding that Nevada can apply for, or stopping Congress from funding efforts to revive Yucca Mountain, I’m proud that I was able to use my position in the U.S. Senate to make sure that Nevada wins in this piece of legislation,” he said in a release.

Cortez Masto called for a more bipartisan approach to funding the government.

“We must stop governing by crisis in Washington and use the example of this legislation to bring us together in a spirit of compromise and bipartisanship to solve big problems,” she said in a release. “That’s what the people of Nevada elected me to do and I will continue that fight.”

Among the priorities included in the bill that Cortez Masto highlighted was $530 million for the “Payments In Lieu of Taxes” (PILT) program, a provision she sought. PILT provides funds for local governments in 49 states to help offset losses in property taxes due to nontaxable federal lands within their counties.

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