WASHINGTON – A Republican-controlled Senate committee approved a Pentagon funding bill on Thursday, rejecting Democratic attempts to cut President Donald Trump’s border wall request and his moves to pay for the project without congressional approval.
The Senate Appropriations Committee lined up behind Trump in party-line votes approving an almost $700 billion funding bill for the Defense Department and a $49 billion measure for the Energy Department, nuclear weapons programs and water projects.
The votes came amid tensions on the committee, which is responsible for $1.4 trillion worth of agency funding bills required to fill in the details of this summer’s budget and debt deal . That deal reversed cuts that were aimed at the Pentagon and domestic programs, while increasing the government’s borrowing cap so it would not default on its payments and Treasury notes.
The committee chairman, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., had hoped to approve two other bills, a $55 billion foreign aid measure and a $178 billion health and education funding bill that’s the largest domestic spending bill.
But Republicans stood to lose abortion-related votes that would have aligned those measures with companion bills passed by the Democratic-controlled House, so Shelby postponed the votes.
Democrats complained that Shelby, following the lead of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was shortchanging the popular health and education measure to fund Trump’s $5 billion request for his border wall.
They also were furious about Trump’s moves to raid $3.6 billion in military base construction projects to pay for 11 additional border fence segments totaling 175 miles in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
But Republicans voted down proposals by the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, to block Trump from repeating the maneuver. They also defeated a Democratic proposal to shift $3.6 billion from Trump’s border wall request to other domestic accounts.
Despite some tensions on the committee, both sides said they would work to keep the bills on track. McConnell promised the end results will be fair.
“In the end, the Democratic majority in the House should be able to protect what your priorities are,” McConnell said, addressing the Democratic side of the committee.
The issues that caused Shelby to cancel the two votes included an amendment by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to overturn a Trump executive order that takes away federal family planning money from organizations such as Planned Parenthood that counsel women about their abortion options.
Planned Parenthood announced last month that it would stop accepting that money rather than comply with an administration edict to comply with the abortion counseling ban.
Murray’s amendment probably would have passed the committee, where two pro-abortion rights Republicans would likely have sided with her. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., also could have prevailed in a similar abortion-related matter on the foreign aid bill.
Shelby said the Democratic amendments would have derailed the two bills.
“I am determined to keep the budget agreement intact and the appropriations process on track,” Shelby said. “Therefore, where we are able to advance appropriations bills consistent with the budget agreement, we will do so. Where we cannot, we will not. It’s that simple.”
The committee has a history of smoothing over its differences in the interest of passing legislation, and both sides want to press on and work out the challenges.
Congressional negotiations will eventually work toward a compromise that can pass both chambers.
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