It has been relatively quiet on the domestic front in Washington as Congress has finally closed the books on Fiscal 2018 spending and begun to turn its attention to FY 2019.
FY 2019 is the second year of a bi-partisan budget agreement that substantially raised the caps on both non-defense discretionary and defense spending. The agreement will help make the Appropriations process go more smoothly, but there will be inevitable bumps in the road.
These bumps include the fact that this is an election year for the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate. Even if there is relative agreement about funding levels, there will be arguments about hot-button issues like funding Planned Parenthood and building the border wall as members seek to use the process for political advantage.
Also, we are well into Fiscal Year 2018 and Congress is just starting the Appropriations process. Complicating matters further, three current Appropriations Subcommittee Chairs are running to be Chair of the Full Committee in the next Congress. This might well influence how they proceed to put their bills together.
Finally, the President has threatened to veto Appropriations bills and shut down the government if the bills are not to his liking.
House Appropriations Subcommittees are beginning to consider bills this week. Traditionally, Congress begins with the easiest bills and leaves the most difficult ones until the end of the process. The Labor-HHS-Education bill, which funds Adult Education, is inevitably one of the most controversial.
The conventional wisdom is that despite its best efforts to govern according to “regular order” in which each of the 12 Appropriations bills is considered by its Subcommittee, then at the full Committee level, and then sent to the House or Senate floor for a vote, Congress will run out of time and have to pass a Continuing Resolution that will fund the government past the election. Then there will be a “lame duck” session in which Congress will take up spending issues again.
You may have read that the President signed and criticized the Omnibus Appropriations bill, vowing never to sign another such bill. Earlier this week, the Administration proposed a so-called “rescission” package of about $15 billion to capture funds that had been previously appropriated but have not yet been spent. None of the funds proposed for recapture are part of the FY 18 Appropriations package. All are from FY 17 or earlier. About half the funds come from the Children’s Health Insurance Program, other funds are from transportation accounts and AmeriCorps, among other accounts. These accounts are frozen pending Congressional consideration of the package.
This rather arcane process is intended to prevent Presidents from “impounding” money that Congress appropriated by having Congress vote on the proposals within 45 legislative days. If Congress does not approve, the funding is again available to be spent. What is unusual about this package is its size. Press reports suggest that the proposal is likely to pass the House but not the Senate (where passage requires only 51 votes). Leadership in the Senate as well as House appropriators do not support the idea. There are persistent rumors that the Administration will send up additional rescission packages in the future, which would have the effect of freezing spending on those accounts, at least temporarily.