March Madness: Basketball Fans, Lawmakers Both Pick Winners, Losers by March 16


Planning to have your basketball picks ready soon after the NCAA announces the bracket matchups March 11?  If so, you'll be right in sync with Congress, which around the same time will have to be making final selections as part of its own annual appropriations endgame.

McConnell flaunts Louisville

While you might be pondering whether to write Villanova or Purdue into one of the Final Four slots by the time of the First Round March 16, congressional negotiators at the same time will be deciding who wins more money in what could be a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package to close out last year’s appropriations process.

More money for a border wall or border technology upgrades? Health research or education grants? Highways and bridges or transit and rail?

In both cases, the deadline’s exactly the same: Lawmakers are working with a March 16 deadline to have their decisions made and an omnibus finalized in order to be ready for final floor action the week of March 19. No pressure: A new stopgap funding the government expires a few days later on March 24. 

Question: In which exercise are you more likely to guess the winners right? Unless you're a top bracketologist, you're much more likely to be able to project a winner in the appropriations endgame. That's because Congress just negotiated itself more than $150 billion extra to spread among the 12 unfinished spending bills. The Pentagon already is promised at least $80 billion of that and domestic programs are guaranteed big hikes as well. In this game, almost everyone appears poised to score.

Of course, some teams are repeat winners. Take, for example, the University of Kentucky, one of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) alma maters. Although UCLA has the most titles with 11, Kentucky has eight national titles, including one it won in 2012. The University of Louisville, McConnell’s other alma mater, won it in 2013. And, just like his schools, McConnell—one of the lead negotiators on the new budget deal—is expected to do well again in the appropriations endgame.

But Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), another key party to the budget deal, is no slouch, either. That said, you don’t have to be a Vegas expert to predict that both leaders—along with many other top lawmakers—may bring some special winnings home. Heard on the street: New York wants a multibillion dollar rail and transit project and Kentucky needs a billion-dollar bridge.