House using appropriations bill to work on guns, churches
WASHINGTON — Out of the spotlight, a House panel has taken steps to help victims of gun violence, allow robust politicking from the pulpit, and prevent doctors in the District of Columbia from helping terminally ill people die by suicide.
The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee passed a $20 billion spending bill Thursday to fund the Treasury Department, the Judiciary and other federal agencies.
Quietly tucked inside were numerous provisions that have little to do with funding the federal government. These are called riders. Some are controversial while others are bipartisan. Many will be discarded when Republicans and Democrats negotiate a final spending package this fall — though some will survive.
The bill now goes to the full House. A look at some of the provisions:
The bill would allow young immigrants enrolled in former President Barack Obama's Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrival program to apply for jobs with the federal government.
Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said young people brought into the country as children "identify as Americans." For many, he said, the U.S. is the only country they have ever called home.
"Denying Dreamers the opportunity to serve their community and country through public service stands in stark contrast to our nation's core values," Aguilar said, using a nickname applied to people enrolled in the DACA program.
The DACA program gives hundreds of thousands of young people illegally brought into the U.S. as children a work permit and protection from deportation.
Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, said Americans will be outraged to learn that people in the U.S. illegally would be able to compete for federal jobs.
"So much for Republican promises of making decisions that put American workers first," Beck said.
President Donald Trump pledged as a candidate to "immediately end" the DACA program. But as president, he has said that class of immigrants will not be targets for deportation. He said his administration is "not after the Dreamers, we are after the criminals."
One provision prevents the IRS from enforcing a 63-year-old law that prevents churches and other nonprofits from backing political candidates. Under the law, nonprofits could lose their tax-exempt status if they get directly involved in political campaigns, either by donating to them or publicly endorsing candidates.
The law doesn't stop religious groups from weighing in on public policy or organizing in ways that may benefit one side in a campaign.
The provision forbids the IRS from spending money to enforce the law against "a church, or a convention or association of churches," unless the IRS commissioner signs off on it and notifies Congress.
The bill would prohibit funding for doctor-assisted suicide in the District of Columbia. It also repeals the DC Death with Dignity Act.
In December, Mayor Muriel Bowser signed a law that makes it legal for doctors to prescribe fatal medication to terminally ill residents.
Congress granted District residents an elected mayor and legislature in 1973, though Congress retained broad authority over the city, including the ability to block local laws.
The House Oversight Committee passed a bill earlier this year to block the assisted-suicide law, but the deadline passed for Congress to act.
On Thursday, the appropriations committee adopted an amendment by Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., that tries to stop the law by blocking money to implement it.
The bill encourages states to use funding from the Crime Victims Fund to establish or expand hospital-based programs that help victims of gun violence.
Under such programs, gunshot victims receive counseling at hospitals to help them access community services and avoid getting shot again.
"This provision will not only allow more firearms assault victims to receive the services they need, it will save lives in at-risk communities," said Robin Lloyd of Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group started by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously wounded in a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona.
The bill takes aim at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created under the Dodd-Frank Act in the wake of the economic crisis. The agency gets funding from the Federal Reserve, a move designed to promote independence. House Republicans want Congress to control the agency's purse strings, which would give lawmakers greater say over manpower and priorities.
The bill would also strip the agency of its primary enforcement tool, the authority to go after lenders and debt collectors that it determines have engaged in unfair, deceptive or abusive practices. The agency has used that authority to return billions of dollars to consumers.
Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report.