House Passes Bills to Avert Shutdown, Provide Disaster Aid – UPDATE

House Passes Bills to Avert Shutdown, Provide Disaster Aid – UPDATE

Today the House passed a bill to avert a government shutdown tomorrow.  It will keep the government, including DOD, NASA, and NOAA, operating until January 19, 2018.  It also passed an $81 billion disaster aid bill that includes money to repair hurricane-damaged NASA facilities and NSF’s Arecibo radio telescope, which NASA uses.  NOAA would also benefit from the disaster aid bill, with money to improve satellite ground services to better predict hurricane intensity and track.   Action now moves to the Senate, which is expected to approve the government funding bill. The fate of the disaster package aid is less clear.  [UPDATE: The Senate passed the bill to keep the government funded shortly after it was received from the House, 66-32. It now goes to the President for signature.  The Senate did not take up the disaster aid bill and has left for the year, so it will have to wait until January.]

Congress has not completed action on any of the FY2018 appropriations bills.  Since FY2018 began on October 1, the government has been operating at its FY2017 spending levels under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires tomorrow, December 22.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R- NJ), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The Further Continuing Resolution bill (H.R. 1370, as amended) passed by the House today extends government funding through January 19, 2018.

An earlier Republican proposal would have provided full-year funding for DOD, while all other agencies would have been funded only through January 19.  Democrats made clear that was unacceptable and since 60 votes are needed in the Senate to pass an appropriations bill, at least eight Democrats would have had to support the bill for it to pass there.  The level of defense spending approved by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees is well in excess of the BCA cap.  Democrats worried that non-defense programs (including NASA and NOAA) would have to make up the difference to stay with the overall spending limit.  Republicans relented and kept DOD in the same situation as the other agencies, but made exceptions so additional funding is available for missile “defeat and defense” and construction enhancements.

It was clear today that no one wanted the government to shut down tomorrow — three days before Christmas. The bill that passed the House was the best they could do.  It is not popular though.  Only 217 Republicans voted in favor of it, the bare minimum needed to assure passage.  In the end, 16 Democrats added their aye votes and the bill passed 231-188.

The $81 billion disaster aid supplemental appropriations bill (H.R. 4667) passed the House 251-169.  It includes:

  • $81.3 million to repair NASA facilities damaged by hurricanes;
  • $16.3 million to repair NSF’s Arecibo radio observatory in Puerto Rico, damaged by hurricanes, which NASA uses for asteroid tracking and characterization, for example;
  • $50 million for NOAA for improvements to weather forecasting supercomputing infrastructure and for improving satellite ground services used in hurricane intensity and track predictions (the apportionment of the $50 million between the two is not specified).

The bill includes $27.6 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), $26.1 billion for Community Development Block Grants, and $12.11 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers.  It is controversial with some Republicans because if its size, $81 billion, with no offsets, while some Democrats oppose it because it does not provide sufficient assistance to Puerto Rico, for example. Whether it will pass before the Senate adjourns for the year is unclear.

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