House Approves $383 Billion Spending Package

The U.S. Capitol. (AP file photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The House passed a $383 billion spending package Tuesday, including funds for the 2020 census provided a citizenship question does not appear on the form.

With a 227-194 vote, the chamber rolled out the second spending bill in less than a week – following a nearly $1 trillion spending bill passed last Wednesday.

The legislation bankrolls the departments of Justice, Defense and other agencies for the 2020 fiscal year and is the ninth funding package proposed by House Democrats this month.

The Senate has yet to deliver a single spending bill, while House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer committed to roll out 12 in June. He acknowledged House Democrats will likely miss that target when they head into a 10-day recess on Friday.

Tuesday’s vote allocates $7.5 billion to fund the 2020 census, while prohibiting the inclusion of a citizenship question amid an ongoing investigation by the House Oversight Committee.

Just hours before the vote, the House Oversight Committee announced a former senior adviser to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had given testimony confirming the theory that the citizenship question was a redistricting ploy on the part of the Trump administration.

According to the committee, James Uthmeier provided new information despite the Justice Department’s attempts to block him from answering more than 100 questions.

“He disclosed that he sought advice on adding the citizenship question from John Baker, an outspoken advocate who has argued that ‘the citizenship question is necessary to collect the data for a redistricting of House seats that excludes aliens from the calculation.’ Mr. Baker’s views on the citizenship question have nothing to do with enforcing the Voting Rights Act, but instead are focused on redistricting,” the committee said in a memo.

Entangling the census question with another issue dividing Congress, Republican Will Hurd of Texas took to the House floor moments before the final vote to propose reallocating Census Bureau funds to increase the capacity of immigration courts.

Referring to the climbing number of asylum cases at the U.S.-Mexico border, Hurd proposed taking $75 million out of the “census reserve slush fund” to increase the number of judicial teams handling immigration claims.

But Democrat Pete Aguilar of California denounced Hurd’s proposal as an attempt to undermine the census.

“Any proposal to decrease this amount increases the risk of undercounts of minority and hard-to-count communities, including rural parts of this country that lack broadband services,” Aguilar said.

Democrats voted down the amendment, instead handing the Justice Department $110 billion to bring on an additional 100 judges and staff.

These numbers, Aguilar noted, are consistent with the Trump administration’s request to reinforce the judicial system. He said every dollar for the census is tied to a planned purpose for what will be the “most technologically advanced census in history.”

“There appears to be a growing fear of the census, out of growing fear of a demographically changing country and a concerted effort by the other side to skew results in their favor,” Aguilar said.

The appropriations bill now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate for consideration. But as debates ran late into the night over the week leading up to Tuesday’s vote in the House, Republicans berated their colleagues across the aisle for failing to agree on a spending package.

“It would bust the budget caps by over $350 billion in fiscal year 20 and 21,” Rep. Ross Spano, R-Fla., said. “Not only is the majority spending out of control on programs we currently have but they are creating new programs in these bills.”

But James McGovern of Massachusetts said the Democrats’ push for appropriations is ambitious but necessary to prevent another government shutdown.

“We have been trying to negotiate with the Senate since we took control of the House of Representatives. We’ve been trying to negotiate with the president,” McGovern said. “But every time we sit down with the president, he has a temper tantrum or he behaves in an erratic way and leaves the room. We can’t wait, so we’re going to lead.”

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