Once threatened, Bay funding included in $1.1 trillion spending bill

Staff and wire reports

Congress passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill Thursday that includes full funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, which President Donald Trump had targeted for elimination.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation gives media a tour of the upper bay and lower Susquehanna River to highlight the improvements and threats to the watershed, Wednesday, April 12, 2017.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Trump still needs to sign the bill that would keep the government running through September.

Trump's budget proposal — which had included a $52.3 billion increase in defense spending — called for cutting the Environmental Protection Agency's funding by more than 30 percent, including the complete elimination of the Chesapeake Bay Program.

The EPA provides about $73 million annually to the project, which encompasses efforts of six states — including Pennsylvania — and Washington, D.C., for coordinating science, research and modeling of bay cleanup efforts, in addition to grants to state and local governments for reducing pollution.

The agreement between the states was first put into place in 1983 under President Ronald Reagan, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

William C. Baker, president of the foundation, lauded lawmakers who fought to keep funding for the program, which has helped steadily improve the health of the bay.

“While much remains to be done, the federal-state partnership is now making real progress after decades of fits and starts," Baker said in a statement. "The dead zone is getting smaller, female crab numbers are up, and we have seen record levels of bay grasses in each of the last four years."

Negotiators on the bill dropped Trump’s demands for a down payment on his oft-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, but his signature bought just five months of funding stability while lawmakers argue over the wall and over Trump’s demands for a huge military buildup matched by cuts to popular domestic programs and foreign aid accounts.

The House passed the measure Wednesday on a big bipartisan vote, though 103 of the chamber’s conservative Republicans opposed the bill. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, was one of them.

Sen. Pat Toomey, of Pennsylvania, was one of 18 Republican senators to vote against the bill Thursday. All Democrats voted in favor of it.

Toomey issued a statement saying he voted against the bill because it "fails to rein in excessive government spending and neglects to tackle out-of-control regulatory agencies."

“This funding bill is the result of a broken process," Toomey said in the statement. "The Senate was forced today to pass one giant, trillion-dollar bill on the eve of funding expiration because our Democrat colleagues refused to allow us to even consider individual appropriation bills last year — even though those bills had been successfully voted out of committee with wide bipartisan support."

The White House and its GOP allies praised $15 billion in additional Pentagon spending obtained by Trump and $1.5 billion in emergency border security funds, but they were denied funding to begin construction work on the border wall.

“After years of an administration that failed to get serious on border security, this bill provides the largest border-security funding increase in a decade,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a key negotiator.

And Democrats and the pragmatic Republicans who negotiated the bill successfully defended other accounts targeted by Trump, such as foreign aid, the Environmental Protection Agency, support for the arts and economic development grants, among others.

The sweeping, 1,665-page bill also increases spending for NASA, medical research, and the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies.

Democrats praised the measure as an example of bipartisan cooperation in the handling of the 12 annual appropriations bills that fund the federal government. It reflects bipartisan culture among congressional appropriators, who long ago sorted out many of the spending fights Trump wants to renew this summer — over foreign aid, funding for the arts, Amtrak subsidies, grants to state and local governments, and development agencies such as the Appalachian Regional Commission.

“On a bipartisan basis, we rejected President Trump’s ill-considered proposal to slash domestic programs by $15 billion, including deep cuts for NIH and low-income energy assistance. Instead, this bill includes a $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health,” said a top Democratic negotiator, Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont, who called the bill “a good deal for the American people.”

Trump took to Twitter earlier this week  to complain about the bipartisan process that produced the measure but changed course to crow about additional spending for the military and border security. The White House has said he’ll sign the bill.

One of Trump’s tweets advocated for a “good shutdown” this fall to fix the “mess” that produced the bill, though he appeared at the White House just hours later to boast that it was a big win for him.

— Staff reporter David Weissman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.