House passes bill to fund border wall, increase Pentagon spending

UPDATE — 8/4, 8:33 a.m. EDT: $80 million authorized by Congress for fiscal year 2017 to fund the newly created Global Engagement Center, an interagency organization at the State Dept. charged with countering ISIS and Russian propaganda, has yet to be used by Secretary Tillerson.

According to a report by Politico Wednesday, career State officials have insisted Tillerson use the appropriated money but the former Exxon CEO is concerned about employing a program that would further isolate Russia. The Trump administration has also made public it intent to curb State Dept. funding.

Sources within the department say that Tillerson adviser R.C. Hammond has led the charge against using money to fund the Center.

“Hammond said the secretary is in the process of working through disagreements with Russia, and this is not consistent with what we’re trying to do,” said former undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, Rick Stengel.

 

The House of Representatives passed a $788 billion defense spending package on Thursday that includes a $1.6 billion down payment for construction of a wall along the U.S. southern border as advocated by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign.

The Make America Secure Appropriations Act includes four spending measures and a $68 billion increase in Pentagon funding, which comprises 80 percent of the bill’s appropriations. General defense-related expenditures will also rise despite strict limits set earlier in 2017.

There’s still potential for a government shutdown this fall over the wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, however. Trump was adamant during the campaign that Mexico would pay for construction costs, but American taxpayers will likely have to shell out money for the massive project.

Congress must complete all 12 spending bills by Sept. 30 to avoid a government shutdown. House Republicans said they plan to create another appropriations package containing eight spending measures, which may prove difficult to pass in a politically divided legislature.

“The bipartisan voices calling for action will not be silenced,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) “But this just one example of regular order being abandoned to advance an extreme agenda.”

Domestic agencies and foreign aid are facing funding reductions of more than $50 billion or 10 percent for fiscal year 2018, while cuts to domestic programs have been reduced.

House Speaker Paul Ryan signaled support for President Trump’s campaign promise Tuesday, tweeting: “It is time for The Wall.” A video accompanied the tweet, showing the House speaker riding in a helicopter and meeting with border patrol agents. “They [Border Patrol] clearly need more tools and more support to do their jobs effectively. That’s why we’re going to get this done this week,” Ryan says.

While Republican leadership in Washington is on-board, many politicians representing states on the southern border have expressed doubt about the effectiveness a wall and some are raising concerns about using taxpayer funds to build it.

The clock is now ticking on federal agencies, as Congress’ budget deadline is now less than two months away. Government functions that have not been funded will be effectively shut down if appropriations measures are not passed before Oct. 1.

 

[Politico] [Reuters] [AP] [CNBC] [Washington Post] [Photo courtesy Reuters/Carlos Barria]