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House Financial Services advances bill with safe harbor for marijuana banking


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House Financial Services advances bill with safe harbor for marijuana banking

Jim Saksa is a reporter with CQ-Roll Call. Reprinted by permission from CQ-Roll Call.

The House Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee approved a $24.9 billion spending measure by a voice vote Monday night, but Republicans warned that the bill would face stiffer opposition ahead if Democrats do not drop policy riders.

The panel's ranking member, Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., remarked positively on some of the bill's provisions before turning to the GOP's concerns with the add-ons addressing controversial issues.

"It also blocks all the funds that the president and the administration have been attempting to use to secure our southern border. I'm also concerned that it provides the District of Columbia with just a blank check, without any oversight," Graves said, noting that the bill would allow Washington, D.C., to fund abortions using local taxpayer dollars.

Turning to Subcommittee Chairman Mike Quigley, D-Ill., Graves added: "As long as this bill contains these measures and many others, you and I both know this will never be signed into law."

The fiscal 2020 spending measure would prohibit using money from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund to build a wall along the Mexican border. Congress and the president deadlocked over the issue during last year's budget negotiations, leading to a 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government. Democrats have consistently vowed to block the wall's construction.

President Donald Trump said last week that he would levy a tariff on all imports from Mexico starting June 10 and ratchet it up to as high as 25% by Oct. 1, unless Mexico stems the flow of Central American migrants crossing on their way to the U.S.

Marijuana safe harbor

The bill contains a rider that would provide a safe harbor for financial institutions providing services to state-authorized marijuana businesses. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., advanced a bipartisan measure to do the same through committee earlier this year, and Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., introduced a broader bill that would amend federal drug statutes so they would no longer apply to individuals acting in compliance with state marijuana laws.

The policy riders got the bulk of the attention at the markup of a bill that would also increase funds for tax enforcement, small-business loans and grants to financial institutions in rural and impoverished areas. The measure funds the Treasury Department; the IRS; the White House; the federal judiciary; payments to Washington, D.C.; and more than two dozen independent agencies.

The bill would increase top-line spending by $1.4 billion from fiscal 2019, but it would make some sizable shifts, increasing the IRS budget by $697.4 million, and spending $280.4 million more on the Small Business Administration.

The Trump budget request called for winding down the Community Development Financial Institutions program, which subsidizes firms providing financial services in rural and high-poverty areas. The House bill would increase its budget by $50 million, to $300 million.

The budget request called for transferring the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program to the Department of Justice and funding it to the tune of $254 million. The House bill would keep the program in the Executive Office and give it $300 million, a $20 million bump from fiscal 2019.

As Congress continues to debate, largely along partisan lines, whether to impeach Trump following the conclusion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, a quiet House policy consensus has emerged on the need to bolster ballot integrity. The bill would give the Election Assistance Commission $600 million to dole out to states for election security upgrades and would increase the commission's operating budget to $16.2 million, up from $9.2 million in fiscal 2019.

"This is not a partisan matter," said Quigley. "If anything, the challenge of securing our election systems should be a uniting force among Americans."

In addition, the Small Business Administration would receive $280.4 million more in fiscal 2020, for a total of $995.8 million. The SBA's Entrepreneurial Development Program would get $281.8 million, a $34 million jump. The SBA's disaster loan program would get a big boost under the proposed measure, with funding of $150 million, $140 million more than in fiscal 2019.

The IRS' computer modernization efforts would get a 93% hike, going from $150 million this fiscal year to $290 million in fiscal 2020. The General Services Administration's technology modernization fund would also get a relatively large increase — a 40% bump from $25 million to $35 million — but far less than the $150 million requested in the administration's budget. The bill would eliminate a $77 million fillip for helping the IRS implement the GOP's 2017 tax law overhaul.

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