Rental Assistance, Renewable Energy, Space Force And More Are Coloradan Priorities In Must-Pass Budget Bills

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It’s a mad dash to the finish line for Congress.

And not just when it comes to the impeachment process. Lawmakers are trying to send some must-pass legislation, including two appropriations bills that would avert a government shutdown, to the president’s desk. 

The House passed an almost $1.4 trillion dollar spending plan on Tuesday and sent it to the Senate, which will debate and likely pass the bill Thursday. It would need to signed by Trump by Friday to avert a shutdown.

Colorado’s House delegation was split on votes for both spending bills. The first spending measure — which covers Defense, Homeland Security, Financial Services and Justice, among other agencies — received bipartisan support from Reps. Jason Crow, Doug Lamborn, Ed Perlmutter and Scott Tipton, but Reps. Ken Buck, Diana DeGette and Joe Negue voted against.

The delegation was split along party lines on the second spending bill — which covered Labor, Health and Human Services, Agriculture and other agencies — with all Democrats for, and all Republicans against.

Tipton said he supports many of the programs in the spending measure he voted against, but “12 hours is not sufficient time to review a bill of this size.” And he had identified some problem areas “that do not address the spending crisis plaguing Washington.”

“On the whole, passing these huge spending measures under last-minute deadlines fails to address Washington’s reckless spending habits and is part of a continuing process I do not support,” Tipton said.

The bill funds the government through Sept. 30, 2020. It includes: a 3.1 percent pay raise for federal employees, $1.3 billion for the border wall system, $495 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, $425 million to protect and secure election systems, $25 million for federal gun violence research, and a provision that would raise the age to buy tobacco products to 21 years old.

“The passage of these bills ensures the federal government will remain open and working for the American people,” Perlmutter said.

Among the Colorado-specific items Perlmutter highlighted were $2.79 billion for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which helps fund the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden and $12.6 billion for rental assistance, part of which can help residents find housing given the state’s increased rental costs.

Crow pointed to bills he supported in the funding package, such as a one-year version of his SAVE Energy Act. That allows homeowners to deduct $500 from their taxes when they purchase energy efficiency improvements for their homes and increasing funds for the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program (REPI) up to $100 million.

“These are huge wins for the district that find federal solutions to issues right here at home,” Crow said.

The National Defense Authorization Act passed both chambers and is on the way to the president’s desk. Both Sens. Bennet and Gardner supported the $738-billion bill, but the House delegation was split 4-3, with Reps. Crow, Lamborn, Perlmutter and Tipton for the bill and Reps. Buck, DeGette, and Neguse voting against.

It includes a pay 3.1 percent pay raise; the creation of a sixth branch of the armed services, Space Force, which will reside within the U.S. Air Force; and one non-defense issue, mandating 12 weeks of paid parental leave for all federal employees.

Rep. Lamborn, who was one of the negotiators on this bill, said he eagerly voted for the bill, which will benefit the Pikes Peak region.

“With U.S. Space Command established in Colorado Springs earlier this year, and the bulk of the Space Force personnel currently serving on Peterson and Schriever Air Force Bases, this NDAA solidifies our community's position as the premier defense space community of the United States,” he said.

Gardner agreed.

“Colorado has a long history of supporting our nation’s civilian and military space operations, and with U.S. Space Command currently located at Peterson Air Force Base, our state is uniquely positioned to further advance its role in space operations,” he said.

The measure also includes $322 million for military construction in Colorado at Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base, Schriever Air Force Base and the U.S. Air Force Academy. It does not replenish military construction funds diverted earlier this year to go to build a wall along the country’s southern border. Lamborn said that will have to come through regular budget negotiation channels.

The defense bill goes a long way to helping Colorado’s service members and communities, Gardner said. He noted that it does include provisions he pushed for, such as resources for PFAS pollution cleanup and $75 million for the Defense Community Infrastructure Program, which supports economic development in communities around military sites.

The bill also included ending the so-called military “widow’s tax,” to ensure spouses received their full benefits. It was supported by both Sens. Bennet and Gardner.

“Language we secured in this year’s defense authorization bill – from improving our understanding of China’s artificial intelligence strategy and progress to ensuring American satellites don’t get in the wrong hands – will help our military address the complex national security and defense challenges facing our country,” Bennet said.