Stopgap Bill Adds Money for Flint, Paves Way for Mattis Confirmation Vote

Congressional negotiators Tuesday night released a stopgap spending bill to avert a partial government shutdown at midnight Friday and fund federal agencies and programs through April 28.

Final details of the 70-page continuing resolution were hammered out behind closed doors Tuesday while both Republicans and Democrats warned that various provisions and possible additions to the package were causing problems.

The measure includes $170 million in aid to rebuild water systems in Flint, Michigan, following a lead poisoning crisis, plus a boost of roughly $10.1 billion in uncapped war funds, divided between the Pentagon and the State Department.

The package maintains the fiscal 2017 budget cap level of $1.07 trillion of combined defense and non-defense base discretionary spending put in place by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

“This legislation is just a Band-Aid, but a critical one,” House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said in a statement “It will give the next Congress the time to complete the annual appropriations process, and in the meantime, take care of immediate national funding needs.”

The House is expected to pass the package on Thursday and the Senate on Friday. Among the highlights:

The CR includes an expedited process for Senate consideration of a bill next year with language that specifically exempts the next secretary of Defense confirmed by the Senate from a law that requires retired officers to be out of the service for seven years before being considered for the post.

The expedited process is designed to smooth the path for Donald Trump’s nominee, retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, who left the service three years ago. It would limit debate, meaning cloture would not be needed, but three-fifths of senators would need to vote in favor of passage of the bill.

Democrats had opposed any legislative provision that might shorten the debate on Mattis, and their stance could complicate prospects for the CR. New York Democrat Charles E. Schumer, the Senate’s incoming minority leader, told reporters that the Mattis nomination should not be “short-shrifted through a CR.”

The spending package includes more than $10 billion in additional uncapped war funding to combat the Islamic State and for other military and diplomatic efforts. Of the so-called Overseas Contingency Operations money, $5.8 billion is for the Pentagon and $4.3 billion for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development.

Those levels are close to a recent request for additional OCO dollars from the Obama administration. Combined with an increase in base discretionary defense spending, it puts the defense total $8 billion higher than current levels, according to the House GOP summary.

The stopgap-funding bill would approve $170 million in aid for Flint, where widespread poisoning brought nationwide attention to problems with drinking water and the need to update pipes and other infrastructure.

The funding in the CR would fall short of the $220 million approved in a Senate water resources bill that passed in September, but still appears to have the broad support.

The House fiscal 2017 Interior-Environment spending bill, which passed in July, included a rider by Rep. Dan Kildee , D-Mich., that would have allowed states dealing with drinking water emergencies such as in Flint to tap into their Drinking Water Revolving Funds to resolve the issues.

The CR contains controversial riders on campaign finance and political activities, according to an appropriations aide.

The text continues language that blocks the Securities and Exchange Commission from finalizing a rule that would require public companies to disclose more about their donations to outside groups, such as trade associations, that engage in political spending. It also maintains another provision that prevents the Internal Revenue Service from issuing new guidance about what constitutes political activity by nonprofit organizations.

The spending package would direct a transfer of $45 million from a fund used to clean up and reclaim abandoned open-pit mines to the United Mine Workers Association 1993 Benefit Plan to ensure continued coverage of some 16,000 former coal workers and their families.

That funding for the retired miners’ health care program — touted by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday morning — would only last for the duration of the CR. Coal state lawmakers led by Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., were insisting on a long-term overhaul.

The measure keeps intact the freeze on member salaries. Lawmakers have not given themselves a raise since fiscal 2010.

The spending package also effectively commandeers a federal building, instructing the General Services Administration to transfer custody, control, and administrative jurisdiction over the Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Federal Building to the Architect of the Capitol. At the foot of Capitol Hill, the building had already begun housing some committee and support staff have lost office space during the $757.7 million renovation of Cannon House Office Building.

John M. Donnelly, Niels Lesniewski, Elvina Nawaguna, Kate Ackley, Jeremy Dillon and Katherine Tully-McManus contributed.

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President Barack Obama on Tuesday defended his approach to fighting the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in a speech that appeared to feature several tips for his successor, Donald Trump.

Obama used what was likely his final national security address to press for continuing his policy of avoiding resource-draining U.S. ground operations in the Middle East. He argued the use of armed drones, elite warriors and local troops has decimated al-Qaeda has begun to substantially weaken the Islamic State. Trump has suggested some major changes to Obama’s strategy, including working with Russia, tightening Muslims’ access to the U.S., and teaming with any country that promises to fight “radical Islam.”

Obama, speaking to elite troops at the U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, argued so-called “targeted killings” -- which rely on armed drone strikes and commando raids — kill fewer citizens in Muslim countries and give extremist groups less recruiting fodder. He also said his way is much cheaper for the U.S. taxpayer.

[Obama Comes Back at Trump Over ’Radical Islamic Terrorism′]

Obama aserted that U.S. and local forces are “breaking the back of ISIL — and we’ve accomplished all this at a cost of $10 billion over 2 years.” The sum, he added, is the same amount that Washington spent in a month during the George W. Bush administration-launched war in Iraq.

Obama and Trump agree on one thing: The United States should avoid nation-building, especially in the Middle East, a point the former reiterated on Tuesday.

The outgoing administration clearly is eager for its counterterrorism strategy — or large parts — to be continued by the Trump administration, though the president-elect and his team have been critical of it.

“The best option becomes a targeted strike,” Obama said. But he called for the rules his team placed on the drone program to be kept in place, including one that seeks a “near-certainty that no civilians will be injured or killed.” He called that the “highest standard that we can set.”

Human rights groups and some in Obama's own party argue drone strikes are inhumane. The president answered them directly: “You have to weigh the alternatives. Allow us to deny safe haven with airstrikes that are less precise.” Overall, Obama argued his targeted-killing program and reliance on Afghan, Iraqi, and Syrian rebel forces has “saved lives, at home and abroad.”

Obama also appeared to continue something he’s done since Election Day: laying down markers for Trump.

Some were more tactical in nature, like when Obama said U.S. officials must be careful not to alienate local populations and make it easy for terrorist organizations to recruit new members by using too heavy a military hand.

Others were more strategic. One example came when Obama pointed to the American flags behind him and said the country’s citizens, soldiers and leaders must have “the confidence that right makes might, not the other way around.”

“That’s how we’ll protect this great country,” he said. “That’s how we’ll protect our Constitution against all threats, foreign and domestic.”

[Analysis: Desire to Avoid Bush Missteps Could Taint Obama Legacy]

Another came when the commander in chief noted he “swore and oath to defend our Constitution,” and has tried to ensure the nation’s counterterrorism strategy adheres to it. Yet another came when Obama lauded his ban on torture, all but addressing Trump directly when he revealed no national security official who has worked for him has said the U.S. missed out on intelligence by avoiding enhanced interrogation methods.

“We can get these terrorists and be true to who we are,” Obama said, including by punishing ISIS or al-Qaeda operatives or sympathizers “through our justice system.”

Other messages the 44th president seemed to be sending the 45th were more fundamental in nature.

While Trump has discussed banning anyone from Muslim countries with any terrorist activity, Obama stressed the United States was founded on the principle of free religious expression. He also stressed America is a country that always has been “defined by hope and not fear.”

But the most pointed comment Obama appeared to aim at his successor was this: Obama stressed that the United States remain a country where one can “criticize our president without retribution.” Just last week, Trump took to Twitter to propose prosecuting those who burn the American flag — or even stripping their citizenship. The social media posts seemed a reaction to flag burning by some protesting his surprising election.

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.

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