House-Senate negotiators finalize defense spending for 2019

Defense Secretary James Mattis thanks Senator Richard Shelby, Defense Subcommittee Chairman, after a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, May 9, 2018 (DoD Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann)

WASHINGTON — House and Senate negotiators reached agreement Thursday on the $675 billion fiscal 2019 defense appropriations bill, setting the stage for a defense funding bill to be approved on time for the first time in a decade.

“The conference committee has come to an agreement but a conference report was still waiting to be filed and voted on,” according to the office of Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Passage is expected, however.

The defense money is included in what is called a minibus package, along with funding for Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services.

“I’ve worn the word ‘soon’ out. But it’s close — imminent, imminent,” Shelby told reporters earlier in the day.

“The Defense and Labor-HHS bills account for the lion’s share of discretionary spending,” Shelby said in a news release. “Pairing these two bills was the lynchpin of our strategy to pass appropriations bills in the Senate. One, the top priority for Republicans; the other, the top priority for Democrats. Both important to all Americans.”

Pentagon officials had no immediate comment on the passage, which gives the Defense Department all the money it sought for the second straight year.

Easing passage of the bill were bipartisan efforts to remove non-relevant riders and amendments from the bill, which almost always draw opposition votes.

“I am also pleased that this bill is free of controversial poison pill riders,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters. “We did our job and focused on the task at hand, which is making responsible, thoughtful decisions about how to fund these federal agencies. This is how it should be done.”

The Defense/Labor-HHS minibus followed the first minibus passed on Wednesday. That one contains 2019 money for Veterans Affairs and military construction, energy and water programs, the legislative branch, and nuclear weapons.

The remaining parts of the government will be funded through Dec. 7 by a continuing resolution that was added to the Defense/Labor-HHS package.

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