The House is expected to send a $1.2 trillion, 12-bill spending package to the Senate that reflects Republican leaders’ plans to prioritize defense over domestic programs in fiscal year 2018.
The omnibus is likely to pass the chamber Sept. 14 on a mostly party-line vote, with GOP leaders relying on Republicans to move legislation providing large spending increases for the Pentagon next year.
But in the Senate, the measure will be vulnerable to a budgetary challenge by Democrats. The big boost for defense greatly exceeds the allowable spending under the Budget Control Act.
Despite the bill’s uncertain future, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the action shows the GOP is serious about “regular order” and completing all 12 bills before the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1. However, even if the bill stalls in the Senate, Congress recently cleared a continuing resolution (H.R. 601) that extends current funding into December. The Senate still is marking up its versions of the regular appropriations bills and hasn’t taken up any on the floor this year.
An effort by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring up the omnibus would probably fail to get the required 60 votes. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters that the Senate should change its rules to eliminate a filibuster threat.
“We will pass them with the majority in Congress,” McCarthy said. The American public believes the House has the authority with the appropriations to pass it with a majority. The Senate should waive the 60 [vote] rule and pass it with a simple majority and take it to the president’s desk.”
Ryan and McCarthy told reporters the action represents the first time in years the House has passed all 12 regular appropriations bills before the next fiscal year.
“I made a commitment to regular order, to working with both sides of the aisle, to spend taxpayers’ [money] the right way and to go through regular order,” Ryan said before the House resumed work on a long list of amendments to the package.
But to achieve that goal, the leaders didn’t bring any individual bill to the floor this summer.
Instead, the House Appropriations Committee led by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) held back-to-back markups in July to finish the bills. Four were quickly bundled into a “minibus” (H.R. 3219) sent to the floor on the eve of the August recess. That $788 billion package—which includes the $658 billion defense bill—now will be added to the $439 billion, eight-bill omnibus after debate and before the legislation is sent to the Senate.
The legislation headed to the Senate would provide a $70.4 billion increase for defense, or a 13 percent hike, which is $72.4 billion above the BCA’s spending cap. In contrast, non-defense spending is $8.7 billion below FY 2017 spending, a cut of 1.7 percent.
Democratic leaders sharply criticized what they called a “skewed prioritization” and the process of moving all the bills without any House-passed budget resolution to provide top-line guidance for appropriators.
“It is clear that House Republicans would rather waste valuable time on partisan legislation that does not stand a chance of actually being signed into law instead of working with Democrats on responsible solutions that will create jobs and grow the economy,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said.
Even Republicans on the appropriations committees have called the bill’s funding levels misleading or even “fake,” saying that the final numbers won’t be known until Ryan and McConnell join their Democratic counterparts and the White House in a new negotiation to ease the BCA’s budget caps. Leaders have declined to say when those talks will begin, with some even suggesting that they won’t get serious until progress is first made on a package of tax cuts.
But Labor, Health, and Human Services Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and others said they are quietly beginning talks on the final details of their bills while waiting for better numbers this fall. Cole had to write a bill that represents a $5 billion cut.
“We’re already having discussions with our counterparts, with [Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.] at Labor-HHS and I’m sure that’s happening at the other subcommittees as well,” Cole said.
“He’s got $8 billion more than I do. At some point we’re going to be given a common number so we spend a lot of time prioritizing. There are things I cannot get to in my bill but because he has more money, he can,” Cole said.
Blunt also said the talks are ongoing.
“But none of those discussions can come to conclusion until we know what the overall final number will look like,” Blunt said.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), chairman of the Appropriations Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, said his aides are discussing with House staff the details of what a final Milcon-VA bill might look like.
“I don’t think we’re going to resolve the issue of the top-line number but we can resolve the differences in policy,” Moran said.
Moran said he hasn’t, however, observed any effort by leaders to negotiate a new budget deal.
“In my view, those meetings should have taken place months ago,” Moran said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com
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