The House voted 239-171 early Thursday morning to pass a $1.1 billion Zika virus response package and FY17 Military Construction-VA appropriations bill (H.R. 2577), following a sit-in demonstration by Democrats who demanded a vote on gun control legislation. There was no debate allowed on the spending bill.
The vote was the last major order of business before the chamber recessed for the July Fourth recess.
The conference report was the result of an agreement between House and Senate Republicans, but Democrats in both chambers have promised to oppose it on the floor. It’s not yet clear if it will be signed into law by President Barack Obama, who had requested $1.9 billion to combat the Zika virus.
The House had to pass the package this week if there would be any shot of it reaching the President’s desk before the end of June, the latest deadline lawmakers set for providing additional resources for the anti-Zika effort.
The final Zika virus legislation provides $1.1 billion, according to a House Appropriations Committee summary, including:
- $476 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for mosquito control, surveillance of the disease, laboratory activities, and public education efforts;
- $230 million to the National Institutes of Health for vaccine research and development;
- $85 million to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority for new rapid diagnostic tests;
- $40 million for community health centers in Puerto Rico and U.S. territories;
- $95 million for the Social Services Block Grant to be used in U.S. territories;
- $175 million for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development to combat Zika for the remaining three months of FY16
Democrats object to language in the bill that allows the use of certain pesticides for mosquito control without certain environmental permits as well as approximately $750 million in offsets. The measure pulls $107 million from efforts to combat the Ebola virus; $100 million from administrative funding for the Department of Health and Human Services; and $543 million intended for health exchanges under the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) that were never set up in the territories, according to the summary.
The Military Construction-VA measure provides $82.5 billion in discretionary funding, a boost of $2.6 billion from FY16, according to the House summary of the legislation. The bill includes $7.9 billion for military construction projects, a cut of $273 million from FY16 but $282 million over the president’s request. The funding includes:
- $172 million in Overseas Contingency Operations funding for counterterrorism projects and the European Reassurance Initiative;
- $1.27 billion for military family housing;
- $304 million for military medical facilities;
- $246 million for Department of Defense education facilities;
- $178 million for the NATO Security Investment Program
The Department of Veterans Affairs would receive $176.9 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding, an increase of $14.2 billion from enacted levels. The $74.4 billion in discretionary funding is a $2.9 billion increase from FY16 and includes funding for:
- $52.8 billion for medical services for veterans, including $7.9 billion in mental health services and $173 million in suicide prevention efforts;
- $260 million for the modernization of the VA electronic health record system;
- $2.9 billion to process disability claims, a boost of $148 million over fiscal 2016;
- $66.4 billion in advance appropriations for veterans’ medical programs in fiscal 2018, along with $103.9 billion in advance mandatory funding for the VA
The Education Department has chosen 67 colleges to participate in a pilot program where incarcerated individuals could receive Pell Grants, evading a provision in the Higher Education Act that banned them from grant eligibility.
The Dept. of Education received about 200 requests from interested schools who will offer classroom-based education in the correctional facilities, online or a combination of the two. Programs can begin as early as July 1 or this fall semester.
The 1994 Higher Education Act (PL 110-315) banned the incarcerated from participating in the law. But by creating an experimental program, the Education Department is able to use the funds to evaluate how Pell Grants might help imprisoned men and women. The program will allocate roughly $30 million in Pell Grants, a fraction of the nearly $15 billion program.
Education Secretary John King, Jr. said it will not impact any other students eligible for Pell.
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has dismissed the Department’s authority to launch this program, saying Congress could change the ban when it reauthorizes the Higher Education Act, but for now the department had no power to act.
A House bill (H.R. 3327) by Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) to block the funding was introduced, although it has not advanced.
House Republican Leadership abruptly adjourned early this week following a Democratic sit-in on the House floor demanding votes on gun control legislation.
The GOP refused to yield to those demands and managed to regain enough control of the floor to approve an emergency funding package to combat the Zika virus after 3 a.m. Thursday.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) dismissed the sit-in as “nothing more than a publicity stunt,” and said he had no intention of allowing a floor vote on the legislation sought by Democrats. The proposal, which the Senate rejected Monday, would block a gun purchase from anyone on a terrorist watch list maintained by the FBI. “We’re not going to take away a citizen’s due process rights,” Ryan said on Wednesday.
But even as he spoke, lawmakers in both chambers continued inquire about a potential bipartisan compromise. In the Senate, Susan Collins (R-ME) was building support for a more limited measure that would deny a gun purchase to about 109,000 people on a no-fly list and a smaller “selectee list” of terror suspects, with the right to appeal in court. The FBI would be notified if anyone who is or was on the broader terrorism watch list in the last five years buys a gun, although the sale wouldn’t be blocked. In the House, Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Seth Moulton (D-MA) began work on a bipartisan measure similar to the Collins legislation.
Despite efforts to bring up compromise legislation, the likelihood of passing a gun-control bill in a Republican-controlled Congress remains unlikely.
Next week in Congress, the House will not be in session. The Senate will be in session Monday through Thursday. Both chambers will return July sixth.
The House on Wednesday was scheduled to take up the $21.7 billion FY17 Financial Services spending bill (H.R. 5485), a policy rider-heavy piece of legislation with 70 amendments filed on the measure.
But by the end of the day, a sit-in by Democrats had pushed the day’s business aside and an emergency funding measure to combat the Zika virus had taken priority.
The House had adjourned for its July Fourth recess. The House will likely return to the Financial Services appropriations bill upon their return, and if passed would be the fourth spending measure approved by the House for almost two weeks.
Currently, the Senate has district judge nominations scheduled for floor time next week. The Senate is also expected to take up the House-passed Puerto Rico bill (H.R. 5278), which would provide the commonwealth with the tools to restructure about $70 billion in debt