Committees Set to Move Last Spending Bills

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By Nancy Ognanovich

June 20 — House and Senate appropriators are headed into the homestretch of this year's work on the annual appropriations bills, laying the groundwork to move the last of the bills before Congress shuts down July 15 for a seven-week break.

Committee action on a few more bills before the recess will put appropriators' mark on the size and details of fiscal year 2017 spending as they prepare for what most lawmakers now expect will be a year-end negotiation over a $1.070 trillion omnibus spending package.

In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee chaired by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) now has approved 11 of the 12 bills and is expected to soon move the annual State-Foreign Operations spending bill as its last piece of business before the break.

The House Appropriations Committee will begin moving its version of the State-Foreign Ops bill at the subcommittee level June 23, Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) announced. The panel also rescheduled a full committee markup of the Homeland Security bill for June 22.

The missing piece of the puzzle, however, is the Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill, typically the most controversial of the 12. While Cochran's panel approved its version this month, Rogers has yet to announce when the bill will be taken up.

State-Foreign Ops on Tap

Rogers and Cochran began reporting bills in mid-April in order to have them ready for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to start bringing them up as part of their plan to return to “regular order” and pass individual appropriations bills. But that effort slowed amid opposition from the House Freedom Caucus over the leaders' plans to have the bills reflect the $1.070 trillion discretionary spending cap in last fall's budget deal (See previous story, 04/21/16).

As a result, floor consideration was delayed, and other controversies emerged to further erode momentum for leaders' plans. With only a few days left before the House leaves for the July 4 break, appropriators are trying to pass a fourth bill—Financial Services—on the floor. It remains uncertain how many more can come up when they return from break. Aides said a conference agreement using the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill (H.R. 4974) to carry Zika funds remains the most likely vehicle to be put to a vote before July 15.

The Senate passed three bills, including Milcon-VA, and now is struggling to pass the Commerce-Justice-Science measure (H.R. 2578) (see related story in this issue).

For their part, appropriators said the focus now has to be on finishing the markups in order to be ready for negotiations over the expected continuing resolution that must be passed by Sept. 30. Some appropriators said the Senate schedule could be revised to even eliminate more work days leading up to July 15.

“We're going to pass as many bills as possible,” Appropriations ranking member Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) told Bloomberg BNA. “In committee, we will be completely done by the Fourth of July.”

Aides said they now expect the State-Foreign Ops bill (number not yet available) to be marked up and reported by Cochran's committee by June 30. They said the panel has reserved $37.19 billion in regular discretionary funds for the bill plus $14.90 billion in so-called Overseas Contingency Operations funds for the measure.

Action on Labor-HHS?

Rogers's panel hasn't yet revealed what allocations it has reserved for State-Foreign Ops and Labor-HHS. Democrats said they are worried that the increases provided for Milcon and other bills will translate into cuts for the last bills (See previous story, 04/14/16).

The State-Foreign Ops bill is expected to be unveiled early June 22, ahead of a subcommittee markup at 10:30 a.m. the following day. A full committee markup hasn't been scheduled.

Meanwhile, the full committee plans to move the annual Homeland Security appropriations bill June 22 at 10:30 a.m. The bill, which provides $41.1 billion in regular discretionary spending and $7.3 billion in other funds for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was already marked up in subcommittee.

But still to be seen is whether the committee moves the annual Labor-HHS bill before the recess. Current funding for programs covered by the bill is about $162 billion.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com