The House has approved a package of fiscal 2018 spending bills that would provide the $1.6 billion President Trump requested to start work on a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border as well as boost military construction and the Army Corps of Engineers civil works program. But the legislation would cut spending on major Dept. of Veterans Affairs building projects. [Bill summary.]
The legislation also would let the Environmental Protection Agency and the Corps withdraw, without going through the regulatory comment process, a 2015 Obama administration rule defining which bodies of water are subject to federal regulation.
The multipart spending measure, which the House passed on July 27 by a 235-192 vote, is far from the last word on 2018 spending levels, however. The Senate has yet to vote on any of its 2018 appropriations bills and is unlikely to adopt the House measure as is.
The House-passed package includes full-year 2018 numbers for four of the 12 annual appropriation measures: defense, energy and water programs, military construction-VA, and legislative branch.
Appropriators pulled the $1.6 billion for the border wall from a measure to fund the Dept. of Homeland Security that has yet to have a House floor vote. The largest share of the barrier funds would go to the Rio Grande Valley—$784 million for 32 miles of new fencing and $498 million for 28 miles of new levee wall. The allocation also includes $251 million for 14 miles of "secondary fencing" in San Diego.
Military Construction Boost
The overall package also would provide $10.2 billion for military construction—counting both regular appropriations and overseas contingency funding—up 25% from 2017's enacted levels, according to the House Appropriations Committee. But the legislation also would slice the budget for major VA construction projects—those costing $10 million or more—by 22%, to $410 million. It also would trim minor VA construction projects by 8%, to $343 million.
In the energy and water section of the measure, lawmakers provided slightly more than $6 billion for Corps of Engineers civil works, up 2% from this year's level. The program includes river locks and dams, flood control, environmental restoration and other projects. The House rejected Trump's proposed cut of $1 billion for the Corps.
Within the $6-billion civil-works total, the House hiked the Corps' operation and maintenance account by 12%, to $3.5 billion. But it cut the Corps' construction program 10%, to $1.7 billion.
The same section of the package allots $5.4 billion for the Dept. of Energy's defense environmental cleanup account, the same as in 2017. That program continues the long program of remediating former nuclear-weapons facilities around the country.
The EPA-Corps regulatory provision would permit the agencies to withdraw the Obama administration's 2015 rule defining "waters of the United States." At present, the agencies have begun the process of rescinding the Obama regulation but still must take public comments on that action and then draft a final rescission rule.
Environmentalists oppose the provision. John Rumpler, Environment America clean-water-program director, said in a statement that the provision "would allow EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to brazenly ignore requirements to respond to public comments, create an administrative record supported by science and facts, or face scrutiny in the courts."