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The House Appropriations Committee is preparing to mark up more fiscal year 2018 spending bills, after budget negotiations yielded a discretionary spending framework that boosts defense spending and calls for cuts in domestic programs.
The Appropriations Committee, led by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), said it would tackle the bills funding defense, agriculture, and energy and water the week of June 26. Republican leaders are discussing an agreement that could provide $621 billion for defense programs next year and $511 billion for non-defense. The Department of Defense number, said to be in flux, represents a huge increase over the $549.06 billion allowed by the Budget Control Act, while the non-defense number is a drop from the BCA’s cap of $515.75 billion.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee, told reporters that with the numbers solidifying, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Frelinghuysen should start moving the bills in committee.
“It’s not resolved yet,” Cole said of the defense number. “What’s resolved is $511 [billion] for non-defense, and we’ve been told if you’re an appropriator, or a cardinal, start writing your bills right away. The speaker said that very directly.”
GOP leaders are anxious to move some of the spending bills soon because funding from the FY 2017 omnibus will expire in little more than three months. However, none are expected to be enacted soon. The Senate has moved none of this year’s bills. As a result, lawmakers said they expect a new continuing resolution will have to be passed to head off the threat of a government shutdown on Sept. 30.
Cole said even with the uncertain DOD number, Frelinghuysen has distributed the so-called 302(b) allocations showing how the funds will be distributed among the 12 bills. Cole said his allocation for Labor-HHS—and those for most subcommittees overseeing domestic programs—represent cuts from current funding. But he said he couldn’t release the number.
"$511’s done,” Cole said. “We’re marking up. We’ve been told in Appropriations—and we all have our respective numbers—to start marking up.”
Cole spoke as Republicans continued to discuss the final DOD number that will be reflected in the FY 2018 budget resolution, now expected to be the subject of a midweek markup at the House Budget Committee. However, Cole said there probably will be no effort to try to bring that budget to the floor before the 10-day July Fourth recess.
Defense Subcommittee Chairman Kay Granger (R-Texas) suggested her panel would mark up to the $640 billion level called for in the House Armed Services Committee Department of Defense authorization bill. That bill, which isn’t subject to the BCA caps, far exceeds President Donald Trump’s earlier $603 billion request and the $621 billion said to be under discussion within the House Republican Conference. Besides far exceeding the BCA caps, $621.5 billion is $36.5 billion over current year spending.
The details of the defense appropriations bill, however, won’t be known until the measure is readied for markup at Granger’s subcommittee the evening of June 26. Frelinghuysen’s committee is expected to release the draft bill by the evening of June 25. The draft is expected to be available on the committee’s website then.
It is not certain whether the full committee will attempt to mark up the defense bill before the House departs for the recess June 30. However, Frelinghuysen’s committee has left its schedule open at the end of the week, suggesting it could still accommodate a markup of that bill and others waiting in the wings.
Earlier June 23, the panel held its second markup of the year, approving a $3.5 billion version of the Legislative Branch bill at the subcommittee level. The bill was approved on voice vote after a 17-minute markup and Legislative Branch Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) said he hopes the full committee will take it up the week of June 26.
Later that day, Frelinghuysen’s panel announced that it had scheduled back-to-back subcommittee markups of the Agriculture and Energy and Water bills the morning of June 28. Drafts of those two bills—which are likely to carry cuts—are expected to be released the morning of June 27.
With those developments, the committee appears to be on track to soon have four bills ready for full committee markup. Already reported from full committee is the $88.8 billion Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill, which has a $6 billion increase. However, Republican leaders don’t plan to bring up the Milcon-VA bill on the House floor until July.
Democrats said they support the Milcon-VA and Legislative Branch bills but are wary that the security-related bills that Republicans are pushing first are claiming any extra money permitted by the BCA, which may signal that the non-defense bills coming later will be cut.
Full committee ranking member Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) criticized the lack of a full set of allocations and said rumors are mounting that the GOP will try to wrap everything up in an omnibus and send it to the floor before the five-week August recess.
“The Republican budget is months late and has left the Appropriations Committee with sequester levels that cut $5 billion from defense and non-defense bills,” Lowey said at the Legislative Branch markup. “As a result, we are yet again considering a single bill that funds one part of the government without knowing the top-line budget number for any of the remaining subcommittee allocations.”
“This is an irresponsible, reckless path, which starves remaining bills of vital resources for education, job training, infrastructure, protecting and conserving the environment, and more,” she said.
Cole acknowledged that the funding levels being discussed violate the BCA’s caps and are unlikely to become law. But he said Republicans want to craft a budget and spending bills that the GOP conference can fully support and then be in a strong position when talks are held with House and Senate Democrats aimed at again easing the law’s caps. Lawmakers have negotiated two previous bipartisan budget deals to provide relief from the caps.
“We vote for things all the time that can’t be enacted,” Cole said when asked by reporters why Republicans don’t engage now in negotiations to raise the caps. “The point is to have a negotiating position that has the conference behind it.”
Cole, who earlier said standalone appropriations won’t be enacted this year, said the likely outcome of this year’s appropriations process is either another omnibus or a year-long CR.
But Lowey said any plan by the GOP to bring an omnibus or minibus packages to the floor in July that violate the BCA is a waste of time.
“Adding to the fiscal disarray, there seems to be no apparent plan to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a default on the full faith and credit of the United States,” Lowey said at the hearing with Frelinghuysen.
“Pursuing a partisan omnibus will only put our nation’s fiscal house in further disrepair,” Lowey said. “I urge the chairman to bring his leadership and the White House to the negotiating table and work with Democrats rather than pursue a partisan agenda that has no hope of enactment.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com
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