CHN: Gun Control Debates Take Over Appropriations Process

The issue of gun control took over the appropriations process in both chambers of Congress last week following the horrific mass shooting in Orlando. House Democrats staged a 24+ hour sit-in to urge House leaders to vote to end the loopholes that prevent background checks for gun sales at gun shows or online and to allow gun sales to be denied to those on terror watch lists. They called for “No Bill, No Break” to signify that the House shouldn’t go home for its July 4 recess without first acting to end gun violence. The sit-in lasted through the night, even as House Republicans forced through near-party-line votes on other measures, including a response to the Zika virus (see related article in this Human Needs Report for more on that). Around 3:30am on Thursday, June 23, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) formally adjourned the chamber until July 5 without a vote on gun control. The sit-in lasted until Thursday afternoon. The House had been working on the FY17 Financial Services appropriations bill last week, but work on that ground to a halt with the sit-in. The Obama Administration has already issued a veto threat on the Financial Services bill in part because it cuts funding for the IRS (by $236 million) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (by $50 million) and guts the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by making its funding part of the appropriations process, eliminating the bureau’s director, and prohibiting implementation of rules to protect against payday lending and other predatory practices.

In the Senate, the issue of gun control came to a head on Monday, June 20 as Senators rejected four amendments (two from Democrats and two from Republicans) to the FY17 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill. This followed a 15-hour filibuster by Senate Democrats the proceeding week. The amendments, which addressed background checks and terrorist watch lists, were rejected mostly along party lines. Later in the week, the Senate also blocked another Republican amendment related to gun sales. One amendment from Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) that would prevent people on the so-called ‘no-fly’ list (which is considerably smaller in number that the broader terrorist watch list) survived a procedural vote to kill it. It is unclear if that amendment will receive an actual vote to be added to legislation. Senate GOP leaders said they plan to abandon the CJS bill at least until September.

Advocates objected to several other amendments to the Senate bill that have not yet been voted on, including one from Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) that would prevent the Census Bureau from continuing to assess U.S. poverty through its Supplemental Poverty Measure. The Supplemental Poverty Measure takes into account the value of benefits such as SNAP (food stamps) or low-income tax credits in calculating a family’s income, as well as counting major expenses like housing, child care, or out-of-pocket medical costs. Advocates also opposed an amendment from Senator John McCain (R-AZ) that would cut $850 million from the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund in order to increase funding for local police actions to detain undocumented immigrants. An amendment from Senator David Vitter (R-LA) would require the Census Bureau to add questions on citizenship and legal status to the 2020 Census for the purpose of excluding undocumented residents and/or non-citizens from the Census-derived state population totals used for congressional appointment. Another amendment, introduced by Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) meant to toughen enforcement of immigration restrictions, would deny federal economic development assistance to any state or locality that restricts the exchange of immigration information with other government officials (such as “sanctuary cities”). Among the many filed amendments, there were also proposals by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to add funding to address the heroin and opioid drug abuse epidemic, and a Reid (D-NV) amendment to prohibit Department of Justice funding from being used to carry out hearings for children seeking asylum unless the children were represented by legal counsel. With almost all of the floor time dedicated to gun amendments so far, it is not clear which other amendments will be taken up on the Senate floor.

Twelve spending bills are required to keep the government operating; to date, the House has passed 10 through its appropriations subcommittees and full appropriations committee, but only three through the full House (another was taken up by the full House but was rejected). The Senate has passed 11 spending bills through its appropriations subcommittees and full committee, and three on the Senate floor. None have been enacted into law.

With the limited number of days left on the Congressional calendar this year, a temporary stop-gap measure to keep the government funded after September 30 is almost surely in the forecast. For more information on all things budget, see our FY17 budget resource page and our June 13 Human Needs Report.                                                                          

Budget and Appropriations
gun safety