Odds against Congress approving any spending bills

Source: George Cahlink, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, June 6, 2016

Congressional leaders will continue their push this week to pass individual fiscal 2017 spending bills. But partisan election-year politics, a limited legislative calendar and other factors make it a long shot that many of those bills will make it to the president’s desk.

There are a host of reasons for lawmakers to start planning now for a catchall, year-end omnibus spending package. Otherwise, keeping the government open will require a continuing resolution, leaving agencies stuck with current spending levels until next year.


House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) insists the surprise defeat of the House energy and water spending bill, H.R. 5055, on the floor two weeks ago is not a sign the appropriations process has gone off the rails.

But the setback over a Democratic amendment on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights bears similarities to a Confederate flag flap that upended spending action in the House last year.

Ryan insists this year’s appropriations process will not be “sabotaged” and expects to meet with the GOP this week to find a path forward.

His most likely option would be to, for the first time since Republicans took back the House in 2010, start restricting amendments to spending bills rather than allowing any member to offer one.

The plan would limit controversial Democratic proposals, like the LGBT one, but it could also wind up blocking GOP provisions not backed by leaders.

If House Republican leaders restrict too many of their members’ proposals, they could start chipping away at backing for the bill.

With Democrats united against spending levels and most policy riders, it only would take a few dozen unhappy Republicans to defeat a spending bill.

And even if contentious provisions survive the House, Senate Republican leaders warn attaching them to Senate bills would invite a Democratic filibuster.

That could make it hard, if not impossible, to reconcile spending bills between the Senate, controlled by the GOP with only a narrow margin, and the more aggressive House Republican majority.

Tight calendar

Congress will be in session for most of the next six weeks, but then will take one of its longest breaks in recent history for party political conventions and the traditional August break.

The recess will stretch from July 15 to Sept. 6. Senate Democrats say this year will mark the fewest days the chamber plans to be in session since 1956.

Once Congress returns in September, both chambers will likely be focused on passing a stopgap funding measure to avoid any chance of a politically toxic shutdown when the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

The time required to move that bill between the chambers will leave almost no room for work on other spending legislation.

Lawmakers are then away from Capitol Hill again for much of the fall to campaign for re-election. When members return for a lame-duck session in mid-November, they’ll have only a few weeks to resolve final funding issues.

Congress will have no time for passing bills in regular order; instead, lawmakers will probably try rolling them into a year-end omnibus.

If that package does not come together, lawmakers may simply pass a resolution keeping agencies funded at current levels and leaving it to the new post-election Congress to set fiscal 2017 spending.


Congress will likely focus on settling a dispute over emergency funding to fight the Zika virus in coming weeks rather than spending the energy hashing out fiscal 2017 spending bills.

Amid concerns of a burgeoning public health crisis, the House and Senate both have backed aid packages to fight the spread of Zika.

But the chambers take far different approaches. The Senate is seeking $1.1 billion that would not require spending offsets. The House has passed a far narrower $622 million plan that would require offsets.

Appropriators and congressional leaders will likely spend the next several weeks trying to find common ground rather than risk seeming unprepared if there is a significant Zika outbreak in the United States.

“We’re not going to stop talking about it until we get some money,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said at a press conference in Nevada last week.

Divided House

Many House Republicans shrugged earlier this spring when the chamber missed its deadline for adopting a nonbinding budget resolution, once a priority for GOP leaders and many rank-and-file members.

The failure exposed GOP fissures on spending that threaten to crack open as the more contentious annual funding bills move to the floor.

Simply put, House conservatives are not willing to get behind an overall $1.07 trillion limit for discretionary spending set by last fall’s bipartisan fiscal accord.

Instead, they want to cut $30 billion or more to avoid charges of an election-year spending hike after years of reductions.

House appropriators have been writing spending bills at the higher level, and most of those measures have easily moved through committee.

But the real test will come on the floor where the most conservative lawmakers, including members of the Freedom Caucus, have not ruled out voting against domestic spending bills if they remain at the higher level.

Chamber leaders will have to weigh their support for the higher level against the possibility that conservatives could join with Democrats to reject appropriations measures.

So far, the House has only backed the military construction and veterans affairs bill. Republicans did not object to more spending going toward the troops.

This week

The House this week is set to consider its $3.5 billion legislative branch spending bill, a largely noncontroversial measure that would freeze lawmakers’ salary for the eighth year and provide a slight boost in funding for staff pay.

The legislation will move under a closed rule, meaning no amendments will be allowed, a long-standing bipartisan practice to limit proposals to slash congressional accounts.

The House Appropriations Committee has not scheduled any new markups.

The chamber’s contentious Interior and environment spending bill has cleared subcommittee before recess, but full committee action will likely wait until next week because of tomorrow’s California primary, where subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert (R) faces challengers.

The Senate, meanwhile, does not have any spending bills on the floor this week as it weighs its annual defense authorization bill.

But Senate appropriators will unveil and vote on the largest of the annual domestic spending bills, which funds the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

Schedule: The subcommittee markup is Tuesday, June 7, at 10:30 a.m. in 138 Dirksen.

Schedule: The full committee markup is Thursday, June 9, at 10:30 a.m. in 106 Dirksen.