House GOP Begins Push on Hard-Right Spending Bills, Teeing Up Future Battles

The U.S. Capitol, reflected in a window outside of the Hall of the States in Washington, D.C., June 28, 2024.(Eric Lee/The New York Times)
The U.S. Capitol, reflected in a window outside of the Hall of the States in Washington, D.C., June 28, 2024.(Eric Lee/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — The Republican-led House voted Friday to strip President Joe Biden’s homeland security secretary and secretary of state of their salaries. It approved measures banning military installations from having drag queen story hours for children. And it passed legislation prohibiting paid leave for Pentagon employees who get an abortion.

The provisions were included in three spending bills to fund the departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security that House Republicans muscled through largely along party lines — even though none of them have any hope of becoming law.

With a government funding deadline looming at the end of September and a high-stakes election in November, lawmakers have entered a period of legislative theatrics, where each chamber is advancing spending bills that the other will never approve.

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In the House, for a second year in a row, that has meant that Republican leaders have opened the floodgates to a barrage of conservative priorities. They include defunding initiatives to combat climate change and promote diversity and slashing the budgets of Biden administration officials — sometimes with little resistance from Democrats, who know those proposals will never be enacted.

“None of these bills — none of them — will be signed into law the way they are written right now,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. “We all know that this is not about serious legislating. This is about show business right now, performing for the most extreme right wing of the Republican base, and it is a waste of time.”

The scenes played out this week in the House, as lawmakers voted on dozens of amendments that presaged the bitter spending fight Congress will take up this fall. The House-passed bills provide a starting marker for bipartisan negotiations, meaning lawmakers will have to yet again bridge a vast chasm between the legislation passed by the Republican-led House and the Democratic-controlled Senate.

In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans are sparring over how to divvy up federal dollars between military and domestic spending. Republicans are seeking a significant increase in money for the military, while Democrats insist that cannot happen without an equivalent increase in domestic spending.

Privately, most appropriators acknowledge that a stopgap, short-term spending bill will most likely be needed to avert a government shutdown at the end of September, punting the debate over federal spending until after the November elections.

Many of the conservative policy riders House Republicans are trying to advance fell out of the spending bills passed this year, after Democrats refused to accept them. The measure targeting drag queen story hours at military bases and another proposal barring the FBI from building a new headquarters in Maryland, for example, were included in the spending bills the House passed last cycle but were ultimately jettisoned by Democrats.

Republicans have insisted they are using their power of the purse to rein in federal agencies that have strayed from their core missions.

“There are some who say cuts of this magnitude jeopardize United States leadership in the world and make us less safe,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said of the State Department bill. “I completely disagree. In fact, it is just the opposite. It eliminates controversial or ineffective programs that American taxpayers do not support and that, quite frankly, our allies and partners don’t support, either.”

House Republicans on Wednesday and Thursday killed a number of divisive amendments offered by their far-right colleagues. Among them were a series of measures that called for ending aid and arms sales to Ukraine, and another proposal — identical to one the House passed last year that was jettisoned in negotiations with the Senate — that would have reduced the salary of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to $1.

The legislation approved Friday would slightly increase funding for the Pentagon, providing a 4.5% pay raise for all military personnel while cutting roughly $670 million for anti-climate change and diversity initiatives. It would reduce funding for the State Department and related agencies by 12%, and provide a slight boost to funding for the Department of Homeland Security.

“This bill funds the core responsibilities of the department that protects the homeland,” said Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev. “What it doesn’t do is fund liberal priorities that further contribute to the chaos at our southern border.”

The Pentagon funding bill passed 217-198. The legislation to fund the State Department passed 212-200. And the bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security passed 212-203.

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