WASHINGTON — A Republican-controlled Senate committee approved a Pentagon funding bill on Thursday, rejecting Democratic attempts to cut President Donald Trump’s border wall request and his moves to pay for the project without congressional approval.
The Senate Appropriations Committee — including Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine — backed Trump in party-line votes approving almost $700 billion in defense funding. A $49 billion measure for the Energy Department, nuclear weapons programs and water projects advanced unanimously.
The votes came amid tensions on the committee, which is responsible for $1.4 trillion worth of agency funding bills required 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 bill. 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 in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
But Republicans voted down proposals by the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, to block Trump from repeating the maneuver. They also defeated a Democratic proposal to shift $3.6 billion from Trump’s border wall request to other domestic accounts.
The group included Collins, who leading a separate bipartisan effort to end the national emergency declaration that allowed the diversion. It’s unclear if the Collins-backed resolution will draw more Republican support than a March bid that Trump vetoed, but it can’t be blocked from going to the chamber floors.
Shelby argued the Democratic amendments would have derailed the spending bill and Collins said in a Thursday statement that Leahy’s amendment was “overly broad.”
She said the resolution — not the “urgently needed” budget — was the appropriate vehicle for the fight over the diversion. The Senate plan includes funding for three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, which are made at Bath Iron Works, as well as other items benefiting that shipyard and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, among other Maine employers.
“The full Senate will soon have a chance to vote again on our resolution to terminate the national emergency declaration,” Collins said.
Despite some tensions on the committee, both sides said they would work to keep the bills on track. Congressional negotiations will eventually work toward a compromise that can pass both chambers. McConnell promised Democrats that the end results will be fair.
The issues that caused Shelby to cancel the two votes 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.
BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.