House okays second spending package, blocks new offshore drilling

Pressing ahead with work on government funding bills for 2020, Democrats in the House approved a package of five measures worth $383.3 billion on Tuesday, funding an array of programs from the Justice Department to NASA, military construction projects and the VA, while also including a series of policy riders designed to rein in efforts by the Trump Administration to expand offshore oil and gas exploration.

"Offshore drilling anywhere near Florida represents an existential threat to our economy that we cannot risk taking," said Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL), as all but one Republican from the Sunshine State supported an amendment to block new oil and gas leasing off Florida, especially in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

"I saw the tar balls wash up on Florida beaches," said Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL), and he invoked the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico when he was Governor of Florida in 2010. "I hope to never see that again."

But it wasn't only Florida lawmakers of both parties making the case against expanded drilling, as the bill also added amendments to block seismic blasting to check for oil and gas deposits in offshore waters along the entire Atlantic coast, along with a full moratorium on new oil and gas exploration on the Eastern seaboard, plus a plan to block any new oil and gas leasing off the Pacific Coast of the United States.

"The Central Coast has endured the devastating impacts of oil spills," said California Democrat Salud Carbajal. "I'll do everything in my power to make sure our community doesn't go through that again."

Supporters of expanded offshore oil and gas exploration accused opponents of using 'fear tactics.'

"I believe the ones who don’t want to see the areas mentioned in this amendment opened up for offshore leasing really just don’t want fossil fuel development," said Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC).

But Duncan's home state colleague - from the Atlantic coast - had a much different view.

"Far too much is at stake in our State," said Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC), who argued for plans to squelch new offshore exploration. "South Carolina’s tourism economy is worth $22.6 billion a year, and two-thirds of that comes from the coast."

"This is an issue that has been supported by Republican Governor (Henry) McMaster, who has made it clear that he opposes offshore drilling," Cunningham added.

The approval of the underlying 'minibus' funding package means that nine of the twelve yearly funding bills have made it through the House of Representatives; one more could be voted on this week before lawmakers leave for a scheduled break.

Those spending bills are supposed to be done by October 1 - but the House only has 25 scheduled work days between the July Fourth break and the end of the fiscal year.

The Senate has one more week of work scheduled than the House - but there is little reason to think that Congress will finish its on time - by September 30 - for the first time since 1996.

"The current funding process is designed to fail. It doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked. It will never work," said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who has been pressing for a full overhaul of the budget process. 

"Since the Budget Act of 1974 was put in place, Congress has only funded the federal government on time four times, and the last time was 23 years ago," Perdue added.

The three funding bills not yet voted on by the House include the spending measure for Congress and the Legislative Branch, a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, and a measure funding federal financial agencies.

The Senate has yet to bring any of the 2020 funding bills to the floor for action.

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