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GOP rejects cuts to wall funding, Dems threaten filibuster

In this Sept. 10, 2019, photo, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., arrives for a news conference following a Senate policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington. Fights over abortion and President Donald Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall have thrown Senate efforts to advance $1.4 trillion worth of agency spending bills into disarray, threatening one of Washington’s few bipartisan accomplishments this year.
In this Sept. 10, 2019, photo, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., arrives for a news conference following a Senate policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington. Fights over abortion and President Donald Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall have thrown Senate efforts to advance $1.4 trillion worth of agency spending bills into disarray, threatening one of Washington’s few bipartisan accomplishments this year. AP Photo

A Republican-controlled Senate committee on Thursday rejected Democratic attempts to cut President Donald Trump's latest border wall request and prevent him from again funding the project without congressional approval. Democrats threatened to filibuster a Pentagon spending bill.

The Senate Appropriations Committee lined up behind Trump in party-line votes giving preliminary, tentative approval to Trump's latest $5 billion wall request and blocking a Democratic attempt to prevent Trump from transferring additional Pentagon funds to build the border barrier. The votes came as the panel approved an almost $700 billion funding bill for the Defense Department.

The votes came amid tensions on the committee, which is responsible for $1.4 trillion worth of agency funding bills reacquired to fill in the details of this summer's budget and debt deal. That deal reversed cuts that were aimed at the Pentagon and domestic programs, while increasing the government's borrowing cap so it would not default on its payments and Treasury notes.

The committee chairman, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., had hoped to approve two other bills, a $55 billion foreign aid measure and a $178 billion health and education funding measure that's the largest domestic spending bill.

But Republicans stood to lose abortion-related votes that would have aligned those measures with companion bills passed by the Democratic-controlled House, so Shelby postponed the votes.

Democrats complained that Shelby, following the lead of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was shortchanging the popular health and education measure to fund Trump's $5 billion request for his border wall.

They also were furious about Trump's moves to raid $3.6 billion in military base construction projects to pay for 11 additional border fence segments totaling 175 miles (282 kilometers) in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

Republicans on the panel such as Roy Blunt of Missouri, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are poised to again join Democrats in a separate effort to reverse Trump's $3.6 billion maneuver, but Trump can simply veto the measure.

But Republicans voted down proposals by the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, to block Trump from repeating the maneuver in the future. They also defeated a Democratic proposal to shift $3.6 billion from Trump's latest border wall request — he's asked for $5 billion more — to other domestic accounts.

Those moves led Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to threaten a Democratic filibuster unless Republicans offer concessions now on the wall money.

"What happens in the next few days and weeks will determine whether we can proceed with a bipartisan appropriations process this fall or not," Schumer said.

Despite some tensions on the committee, both sides said they would work to keep the bills on track. McConnell promised the end results will be fair.

"In the end, the Democratic majority in the House should be able to protect what your priorities are," McConnell said, addressing the Democratic side of the committee.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., criticized the Senate developments, as well as Trump's recent moves to raid military construction projects for schools and day care centers, to pay for the border fence.

"Just when you think you've seen it all, the children will pay for the president's wall," Pelosi said. "This is some kind of an ego wall for the president."

The issues that caused Shelby to cancel votes on the health and education and foreign aid bills included an amendment by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to overturn a Trump executive order that takes away federal family planning money from organizations such as Planned Parenthood that counsel women about their abortion options.

Planned Parenthood announced last month that it would stop accepting that money rather than comply with an administration edict to abide by the abortion counseling ban.

Murray's amendment probably would have passed the committee, where two pro-abortion rights Republicans would likely have sided with her. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., also could have prevailed in a similar abortion-related matter on the foreign aid bill.

Shelby said the Democratic amendments would have derailed the two bills.

"I am determined to keep the budget agreement intact and the appropriations process on track," Shelby said. "Therefore, where we are able to advance appropriations bills consistent with the budget agreement, we will do so. Where we cannot, we will not. It's that simple."

The committee has a history of smoothing over its differences in the interest of passing legislation, and both sides want to press on and work out the challenges. For instance, the panel unanimously approved a $49 billion measure for the Energy Department, nuclear weapons programs and water projects.

Congressional negotiations will eventually work toward a compromise that can pass both chambers.

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