Many Americans know, or can sense, that Congress is on the verge of averting another government shutdown today. Lawmakers plan to extend government funding another six weeks until December 11. In Washington lingo, this now-regular ritual is often called a “clean” continuing resolution or “clean CR”, indicating it continues current policy with no changes or controversy.
But in nearly every “clean” temporary spending bill, especially in this era of permanently governing with temporary bills, there are at least a few changes attached.
Three standouts I noticed in the the bill racing through Congress today:
- 1. $700 million in emergency funding to help fight wildfires. This comes as the western United States braces for what may be a historically dangerous wildfire season. The money is not offset, meaning it would add to the deficit.
- 2. A $174,000 payment to Tori Nunnelee, the widow of the late Mississippi Rep. Alan Nunnelee. This is a Capitol Hill tradition, a payment to a surviving family member following the death of a current member of Congress. It is the equivalent of the congressman’s annual salary. Nunnelee died in February at the age of 56 following a battle with brain cancer.
- 3. A $163 million increase in funding for Veterans Affairs. A continuing resolution general freezes spending at the previous year’s levels for agencies. But in the case of the Department of Veterans Affairs, this spending bill would boost the annual funding rate for its benefits department — the Veterans Benefits Administration — from $2.534 billion to $2.697 billion. The agency requested that increased amount and stands out as one of the only parts of government to get an increase in this short-term spending bill.
Where could you find this information?
This is worth pointing out. Usually, Congressional bills are easy to find. Committees post them online and the excellent Library of Congress’s website provides text and all manner of background.
But not so in a crisis. Even as Congress heads toward votes today, the language in this bill is hard for the public to find.
Why? Lawmakers have had to write and file amendments to amendments late in the process. And because the spending bill is going to straight to the floor, not through the normal committee process, it is being attached to an unrelated bill that is already moving through the process – in this case a bill about the Transportation Security Administration.
The result? The text of the spending bill is not so easy to find online. It was proposed Monday, but yet it is still not available through the most direct means.
But you can find it through a little more legwork. Look in the Congressional Record, which you can search here. In this case search for H.R. 719, the bill about the TSA, and amendment 2689, which is the amendment which keeps government funding.