June 6 — The view of this year’s return to ``regular order” appears strikingly similar from both Republicans’ and Democrats’ perspective, with former top aides to the House Appropriations Committee predicting increasingly poor chances for any of the 12 spending bills to be finalized before a lame duck, post-election session.
While still expecting a flurry of activity to package and prepare the bills for floor action this month, former committee staff directors said the chances for even half to clear the first hurdle of being passed on the House floor before lawmakers leave town July 15 are increasingly poor.
Even if House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is able to bring bills up under highly structured rules limiting amendments, lawmakers expect attention will shift soon to the new stopgap spending bill that will be necessary to prevent any lapse in government funding this fall, they said.
“The calendar is the enemy here,” said Jim Dyer, former Republican staff director and now a principal at Podesta Group. “You've got five weeks until things really get away from you, and I think September is going to be given over entirely to a continuing resolution.”
Scott Lilly, former Democratic staff director who is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said he now doubts all 12 bills will even be reported out of committee.
“I think the best chance to get something done is to get it out of the Senate,” Lilly said, amid efforts by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bundle bills and expedite their consideration.
The former staff directors discussed the outlook with Bloomberg BNA as Ryan made plans to meet with Republicans to discuss how to revive this year's appropriations process. Ryan is expected to lay out a strategy to move bills under rules that sharply restrict amendments (See previous story, 06/06/16).
With 20 work days left before Congress departs for a seven-week recess, the House has approved only one bill—Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (H.R. 4974)—while Energy and Water (H.R. 5055) failed amid a dispute over language to ensure federal contractors don't discriminate against gay individuals (See previous story, 05/27/16).
The smallest and least controversial of the bills—Legislative Branch (H.R. 5325)—now is coming up under a structured rule that is said typical for that measure. But Dyer, who served as a top aide at House Appropriations during the chairmanship of former Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young (R-Fla.), said he expects Energy and Water will remain on the shelf while Ryan works to get the $575 billion Defense appropriations bill (H.R. 5293) passed.
“I think they are moving to a structured rule,” said Dyer, whose firm represents defense industry giants Lockheed Martin Corp. and General Dynamics Corp. “If that's the case they can start doing bills again.”
Still, Dyer said after Defense the outlook is murky. He said the bills that have the best chances to be brought up are Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development and Commerce-Justice-Science.
He said Republican leaders decided to drop THUD from a Senate-passed package (H.R. 2577) also containing Milcon-VA and funding to address the Zika virus in order to increase the chances of finalizing those items.
“It's bigger, more contentious, more cumbersome, and the House hasn't passed it yet and the House can't take it up until it puts a structured rule in place,” Dyer said of THUD.
Dyer said the Financial Services and Interior-Environment bills are very partisan and the outlook is even worse for the State and Foreign Operations and Labor, Health, and Human Services bills. He also said the Homeland Security bill, which could set off another fight over immigration policy, won't see floor action.
Lilly, who served as staff director when the panel was chaired by former Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), expressed a similar view.
“They are talking about getting four bills off the floor,” Lilly said.
Lilly said too much of the limited schedule already slipped away while Ryan struggled to convince conservatives to back his plan to follow the budget framework negotiated last fall by former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
“They pretty well created the mess that no one could recover from,” Lilly said.
But the new strategy could further jeopardize the process, he said.
“If they allow their amendments to be in order but not Democratic amendments they'll have to produce all the votes for the rule,” Lilly said of Republicans.
The bills themselves increasingly are vulnerable to whatever new political fights emerge, Lilly said.
Increasingly members will pursue battles over side issues, even if they jeopardize the underlying bill, Lilly said. “If you have that attitude it doesn't matter whatever issue it is,” Lilly said. “You will go to the mat and stop the world.”
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