Bundling Spending Bills in Omnibus May Set Future Strategy: Rogers

By Nancy Ognanovich

House Republican leaders’ decision to package individual appropriations bills after committee work instead of voting on them one by one on the floor may set the standard going forward, a former Appropriations Committee chairman said.

“This process we’ve used is not a bad process,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), now chairman of the State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee. “It may be a model for the future where we do separate bills until we get to the floor and then you do minibuses like we just did.”

Rogers spoke after the House passed an eight-bill appropriations package (H.R. 3354) providing $439 billion for domestic programs next year and then combined it with an earlier passed four-bill security-related measure (H.R. 3219). The combined 12-bill package providing $1.2 trillion for the federal government in fiscal year 2018 was then sent to the Senate.

The strategy was a major departure from when the House spent the summer considering individual spending bills and voting on each separately. But he said the leadership praised the outcome, saying it allowed the party to say it had finished all bills before the start of the new fiscal year Oct. 1 for the first time in several years.

“I think it holds some potential to be followed next year,” Rogers said.

‘Regular Order’

House appropriators in both parties typically have used the months between April and August to pass the bills individually on the floor.

This year, their work was frustrated by the fact that the fiscal year 2017 bills were held over from last December to give President Donald Trump a say in spending priorities. After an omnibus wrapping up those bills was passed in May, appropriators had little more than four months before the start of the new fiscal year to develop and move the 2018 bills.

In contrast to the House, the Senate hasn’t finished marking up its 12 bills and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) didn’t reserve any floor time this summer to consider bills under “regular order.” Even the 12-bill omnibus recently sent over from the House isn’t expected to be scheduled any time soon for a floor vote in the Senate, lawmakers and aides said. Instead, Rogers said he and other subcommittee “cardinals” already are holding private talks with their Senate counterparts on what the final bills may look like.

But Rogers and others said that process can only go so far. The real factors determining the shape and size of the final bills in large part will be established by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), McConnell, House and Senate Democratic leaders, and the White House in private talks this fall to again provide relief from the discretionary spending caps set by the Budget Control Act.

Bills such as the State-Foreign Operations bill under Rogers’s jurisdiction currently carry steep cuts to allow for a large Department of Defense increase that violates the BCA cap.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Republicans are breaking their promises of following regular order and an open legislative process by considering the package under structured rules, acting on bills before any budget resolution is passed to provide top-line guidance, and packaging multiple unrelated issues into a single vehicle.

But Rogers said members of both parties were given ample opportunity to offer amendments to the two packages. On the eight-bill measure, the Rules Committee entertained over 1,000 amendments from members of both parties and made 342 of them in order. However, not all were actually offered and relatively few were approved during floor debate.

“They can amend the individual bills and then can also not vote for the package if they don’t like them,” Rogers said.

‘New Normal’

Observers said there was already a trend away from enacting individual committee-written spending bills for some time.

“This is the new order, this is the new normal,” said Thomas Spulak, a former top Rules Committee aide who now heads the government advocacy practice at the firm of King & Spalding.

“It’s less committee involvement,” Spulak told Bloomberg BNA. “It gets to be more top-down. You look at some big numbers and they negotiate over really big pots of money for Defense and some other issues.”

However the bills are packaged, Spulak predicted a difficult negotiation over raising the BCA caps and said no resolution would be reached soon.

“We’ll go down to the wire,” Spulak said. “We’ll come out with some big deal that, once again, if you follow my ‘new normal,’ probably also kicks some of it into next year.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at nognanov@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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