Congressional pay raise, immigration, headline House spending package

Even without a broader agreement in place with the White House on funding levels for 2020, Democrats in the U.S. House ran into quick trouble in their bid to push ahead with a package of five spending bills this week, as a rebellion among new lawmakers forced Democratic leaders to retreat on a plan which would have given members of Congress their first pay raise in a decade, as part of that spending 'minibus.'

The 667 page bill - totaling $986.8 billion - would fund a variety of departments and agencies, like Congress, the Pentagon, labor and health spending, energy and water programs, foreign aid, and the State Department,spurring debate on efforts to block the President from using Pentagon money to build a border wall, and questions surrounding how the feds handle the detention of illegal immigrant children.

Here are some of the issues which will face House lawmakers in the days ahead:

1. A pay raise for members of Congress. It went down in flames before it even reached the floor, as an effort to give lawmakers their first pay raise in 10 years ran into quick opposition in both parties.  In order to stop the raise, lawmakers must include a provision in a spending bill to block the scheduled cost of living increase for members which is in federal law, and a number of lawmakers in both parties had already filed amendments to stop their $174,000 salary from going up by about $4,400. "None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to provide Members of Congress with a pay raise," reads the simple amendment from freshman Rep. Michael Cloud (R-TX). A few Democrats are also raising red flags - freshman Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC) has an amendment which would block "cost of living adjustments for Members of Congress." It only took a few hours on Monday for Democratic leaders to ditch the plan, as newly elected members like Ben McAdams of Utah made clear they were not going to vote for a pay raise right now.

2. No military money for the President's border wall. Still stung by President Trump's move to declare a national emergency, allowing him to funnel already approved military construction dollars to the border wall, Democrats have put language in the bill which would specifically block transfers of other money, to prevent the President from dipping into unused pots of money in the Pentagon in order to fund the wall. The move comes after a federal judge last week said Congress does not have the standing to sue the President in court about how money was spent - making the case that Congress has the 'power of the purse,' and can constrain the Executive in that fashion. That's what Section 8127 of the bill does at the bottom of page 334. Also, on page 620, the bill specifically says that no money provided to the Army Corps of Engineers can be used to build a border wall, or other barriers.

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3. House funding bill would block Trump's Space Force. Despite the strong support of President Trump for setting up a new branch of the military devoted to military space matters, the Congress remains unmoved by his calls for action. Mr. Trump had previously asked for over $70 million to start establishing a Space Force - but the language in the funding section for the Department of Defense limits money to $15 million for a study of the matter, and specifically blocks any unilateral move by the President or Pentagon leadership to do it on their own. "Provided, that nothing in this provision shall be construed to authorize the establishment of a Space Force," the bill states on page 223.

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4. "Dreamers" would be allowed to work in Congress. When Republicans were in charge of Congress, provisions passed by the GOP did not allow "Dreamers" - the children of illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. at a young age - to work for the federal government. This package of five spending bills would change that for the Legislative Branch only, allowing those who have been given a work permit under the DACA program, to be hired by members of Congress, or other agencies related to the Congress. Republicans have asked to make an amendment in order to block this exception for the Legislative Branch.

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5. Federal handling of 'Unaccompanied Alien Children.' While the funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security is not in this package of five spending bills, money for the Department of Health and Human Services is in this plan - and HHS is the organization which deals with the care for illegal immigrant children being held by the federal government, an effort which has drawn sharp criticism from Democrats. One proposed amendment would prevent the Office of Refugee Resettlement from housing the children in jails. Another amendment would require a full accounting of the numbers being held. One part of the bill is interesting in terms of Congressional oversight, as it would not allow any lawmaker from being denied entry to a facility which is holding illegal immigrant children. There have been multiple examples in the past year of where lawmakers show up at such a facility, and aren't allowed in the door.

For those interested in sifting through the details of this 'minibus' spending measure: 

Here is a link to the full text of the bill.

A summary (provided by Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee) of all the provisions in this bill can be found at this link. 

Links to the over 500 amendments filed to this bill can be found on the website of the House Rules Committee.

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