House to Clear Spending, Water Bills

House to Clear Spending, Water Bills

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House is advancing hard-fought legislation to help Flint, Michigan, fix its lead-tainted water system and speed next year's confirmation for retired Gen. James Mattis as President-elect Donald Trump's defense secretary.

Those provisions, and more, are catching a ride on a must-do spending measure to keep the government running through April, along with $10 billion in supplemental war funding and $4 billion more for disaster relief for Louisiana and other states. The government would shut down at midnight on Friday if the measure does not pass.

Also on deck is separate legislation to authorize water projects that has sparked a major battle between environmentalists and agricultural interests over legislation to allow more of California's limited water resources to flow to Central Valley farmers hurt by the state's lengthy drought.

The two measures are the last major items on the House agenda before lawmakers leave for the year, capping a tumultuous, often bitter two-year session of Congress.

A conservative rebellion booted Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, from office last year. Democrats staged an overnight sit-in on the House floor protesting the GOP-led Congress' inaction on gun control. Senate Republicans refused to let Obama fill a Supreme Court vacancy after Justice Antonin Scalia died last February.

A bitter and divisive election last month was a capstone to a Congress marked by tumult and GOP resistance to President Barack Obama.

A defense policy bill the Senate is poised to send to the president on Thursday rebuffs key proposals Obama made earlier this year for managing the Pentagon and its sprawling constellation of military bases and facilities.

The Senate is expected to pass the legislation by a comfortable margin less than a week after the House overwhelmingly approved the bill, 375-34.

The defense bill, which authorizes $611 billion to run the military in 2017, prohibits Obama from following through on his longstanding campaign pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The legislation also bars the Pentagon from reducing the number of military bases even though senior U.S. defense officials said there is excess capacity, and it awards U.S. troops their largest pay raise in six years. Obama had recommended a smaller pay increase.

In the Senate, the path forward for the spending and water bills is tricky as Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is siding with environmentalists and is openly feuding with California Democratic colleague Dianne Feinstein, an architect of the California water deal. Boxer is vowing to filibuster the water projects measure over the drought provision.

Separately, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is threatening to delay the stopgap spending bill, arguing that a provision to temporarily extend health care benefits for about 16,000 retired union coal miners facing the loss of coverage on Dec. 31 is insufficient.

GOP leaders are calculating that once the House wraps up work and departs Washington on Thursday, Senate objections to the two measures will fade.

Democrats groused about the provision to make it easier for the Senate to process Mattis' nomination next year. Under current law, Congress would need to pass legislation to grant Mattis an exception from a law that requires a seven-year wait for former members of the military to serve in the civilian post. Tuesday's provision would speed up action on the waiver though Democrats could still filibuster it, a late change that appears to have weakened their opposition to it.

The spending bill also would deliver $170 million in long-delayed help for Flint, but GOP leaders have linked delivery of the funding to enactment of companion language in the separate water projects bill — a move designed to guarantee enough Democrats vote to defeat Boxer's filibuster.

The underlying spending bill would buy several months for the new Congress and incoming Trump administration to wrap up more than $1 trillion worth of unfinished agency budget bills. Republicans promise an immediate infusion next year of additional money for the Pentagon.

Democrats complained the GOP measure shortchanged New York City by providing just $7 million for police overtime costs for protecting Trump, who lives in midtown Manhattan.

Also in the legislation, the trucking lobby won permanent relief from recent Transportation Department rules mandating more rest and overnight breaks for long-haul drivers. The measure also maintains an agreement from last year to boost visas for seasonal immigrant workers.

The measure also includes a $4 billion disaster package that includes federal money to rebuild homes damaged or destroyed by devastating summertime floods in Louisiana, Hurricane Matthew, and other disasters.

(KA)