Even with no agreement as yet between the White House and Congress on budget levels for 2020, the House on Wednesday approved a package of four funding bills worth nearly $1 trillion for next year, and started work on five other spending measures for the operations of the federal government, with no clear idea of what President Donald Trump would accept for next year's budget.
The first spending 'minibus' included $713 billion for the military, and nearly $270 billion in funding covering a range of health, education, labor, energy, and water programs, along with foreign aid, and money for the State Department.
The 226-203 vote was mainly along party lines, as all Republicans were joined by seven Democrats in opposing the bill, even though it included funding for the military, a top GOP priority.
Republicans though objected to provisions in the bill which would prevent the President from shifting money from the Pentagon to construction of a wall along the southern border with Mexico.
The House then moved on to a second funding package - this one combines five different spending bills for an array of government agencies, from the Department of Justice to NASA, agricultural programs, the EPA, National Park Service, military construction, the VA, transportation, housing, and more.
290 different amendments were made in order to the second 'minibus' plan, as House Democrats try to get as many of 12 funding bills passed this summer, in an effort to prevent a government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins on October 1.
But there's one problem with that effort - no agreement has been reached with the White House on exactly how much should be spent in 2020 - meaning all of this work could be for naught.
"This bill is going nowhere," said Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR), the top Republican on the House Budget Committee.
"It is a waste of time," Womack said on the House floor, as Republicans protested the lack of a budget agreement for next year.
The action on next year's spending bills came as Capitol Hill talks involving top lawmakers and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin produced no agreement on how to deal with current budget 'caps' which limit how much can be spent in 2020.
If there is no deal, automatic spending cuts known as the 'sequester' would kick in, slashing billions from the military and non-defense spending programs, a politically unpalatable choice for both parties.
For example, total military spending in 2019 is $716 billion; President Trump wants $750 billion in 2020.
But under the spending limits from a 2011 bipartisan budget deal, the cap on defense spending in 2020 would be $576 billion, down from the current spending levels of $647 billion, a reduction of $71 billion.
The sequester would cut domestic spending less, because it has had a smaller rate of increase over the last two years when compared to the defense budget; non-defense spending would have to be reduced to $542 billion, a cut of $55 billion.
"While we did not reach an agreement, today’s conversation advanced our bipartisan discussions," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer in a statement, as they urged the President to stay on the sidelines.
"If the House and Senate could work their will without interference from the President, we could come to a good agreement much more quickly," the top Democrats added.
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