Democrats remove Iron Dome funds for Israel from stopgap spending bill
WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Democratic leaders agreed to strike aid for Israel's missile defense program that had been delaying House consideration of stopgap funding legislation Tuesday, after progressive Democrats who've opposed Israel's military operations in the Palestinian territories lodged objections to including the money in the must-pass spending bill.
The earlier version of stopgap funding legislation would have provided the Israeli government with $1 billion for its Iron Dome missile defense system "to counter short-range rocket threats," a response to attacks on Jerusalem by Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip over a 12-day period in May.
Sources familiar with the discussions later said the Iron Dome funds, included in response to a June request from the Israeli government that the Biden administration endorsed, would have to come out of the continuing resolution.
"A group of progressives communicated to leadership that they wouldn't be able to support the CR if the $1 billion in additional funding for the Iron Dome wasn't taken out," said a House Democratic aide who wasn't authorized to speak publicly.
House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., later released a revised stopgap bill with the Iron Dome funding dropped, plus a few other technical changes. An Appropriations Committee spokesperson said the money would instead be added to the final fiscal 2022 Defense spending bill, once that's finalized later this year.
Attempts to reach several progressive lawmakers weren't immediately successful Tuesday. But problems become evident earlier in the day when House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., recessed his panel's meeting to consider parameters for floor debate due to what he dubbed a "glitch" in the stopgap bill, which he didn't elaborate on. Sources familiar with the discussions confirmed Iron Dome funds were in fact the glitch.
The temporary funding measure would keep federal agencies' lights on through Dec. 3, suspend the statutory debt ceiling until after the midterm elections, and provide nearly $35 billion to address natural disasters and help relocate Afghans who fled their country after the Taliban takeover.
The continuing resolution would provide a range of program extensions and "anomalies" for certain agencies to spend additional funds. Examples include a Medicaid boost for the territories, more money for former President Donald Trump's office and staff and a renewal of lapsing authority to write national flood insurance program claims.
An extension of expiring surface transportation programs was left out due to a push from House Democratic moderates to vote on a bipartisan five-year package that passed the Senate last month.
The most contentious add-on is likely to be the debt ceiling suspension, which Republicans in both chambers have pledged to oppose. The House is expected to vote on the measure later Tuesday, but with about nine days remaining until the end of the fiscal year, the path to averting a partial government shutdown starting Oct. 1 wasn't yet clear.
"This one decision could force us into an unnecessary and costly government shutdown and other critical programs in this bill could be left behind," House Appropriations Committee ranking member Kay Granger, R-Texas, told the Rules Committee on Tuesday.
If lawmakers can't reach agreement on the debt limit before the Treasury Department runs out of borrowing authority, the federal government would only be able to pay its bills each day using existing cash. That could put Social Security checks, pay for federal employees and dozens of other financial obligations at risk.
Treasury has said Congress needs to act sometime next month; Wrightson ICAP, a private investment advisory firm, said this week the drop-dead deadline was likely Oct. 25 or 26.
Speaking on CNBC on Tuesday morning, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, cited estimates that lawmakers have until near the end of October before they need to act. "We're not up against" the deadline, Portman said. "It's not necessary to do it now."
Portman said Republicans need to see some sort of action to deal with the nation's fiscal problems in order to support a debt ceiling suspension.
"I suspect in a week or so we'll be back here again with a bill I can support," Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, the Rules Committee's top Republican, said at the outset of Tuesday morning's meeting to set parameters for floor debate. "I don't think we should kid ourselves. I think, with all due respect to my friends, you're being used as a battering ram to try to beat down Republicans in the Senate, where they do have a 60-vote rule."
DeLauro on Tuesday morning didn't sound worried about potential delays. "I think let's just wait to see where we're going," she said after a caucus meeting. "You know the nature of this institution changes on the dime."
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, however, acknowledged changes may need to be made.
"We want to send it over to the Senate and give the Senate an opportunity to consider it and figure out what they're going to do," the Maryland Democrat told reporters Tuesday. "And then they may send it back to us, at which point in time we will have to make a determination."
At least one Senate Republican, John Kennedy from hurricane-battered Louisiana, said Monday he might be inclined to support a package that contains disaster aid.
The stopgap funding bill would provide $28.6 billion to help state and local governments recover from natural disasters, including $10 billion to cover agricultural losses from 2020 and 2021 weather events, nearly $6 billion for Army Corps of Engineers flood control projects, $5 billion for housing and economic development projects and $2.6 billion for highway repairs, among other items.
The measure would separately put more cash into the Federal Emergency Management's disaster relief fund on Oct.1. As of Aug. 31, the agency estimated an end-of-September balance of $36.4 billion; the CR would increase that figure to more than $55 billion.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, pointed out the FEMA funds in a notice to fellow Republicans that nonetheless urged them to vote "no" on the combined package.
The measure would provide $6.3 billion to help relocate Afghans who helped the U.S government during two decades of war in Afghanistan, including language making refugees eligible for federal benefit programs and resettlement assistance if they complete security and background checks. They'd also be eligible for expedited asylum processing.
The bill includes language to temporarily extend how fentanyl — a highly potent opioid — is classified. Fentanyl is responsible for a lion's share of drug overdose deaths, which have been on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill would extend fentanyl's status as a so-called "Schedule 1" drug until Jan. 28, 2022. Under current law, the drug would lose its status as a drug with a high risk for abuse on Oct. 22. The Office for National Drug Control Policy issued recommendations for how to classify fentanyl long term earlier this month.
The CR would temporarily provide additional funding for the U.S. island territories' Medicaid programs. Unlike states, whose Medicaid funding is mandatory under statute, the territories are subject to additional restrictions.
Territory funding is capped and funded at a lower match percentage. That match is also subject to reauthorization. The current match rate expires at the end of the fiscal year, and the CR would extend it until Dec. 3, 2021. Territory officials and advocates have been pushing for a long-term solution.
The territory funding would be offset by drawing from $96 million from the Medicare Improvement Fund. This fund was made redundant by the 2010 health care law when it created the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Innovation Center.
David Lerman, Rachel Oswald, Sandhya Raman, Lindsey McPherson and Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.
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