Congress Begins an Appropriations Process It May Not Finish

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 25: A white tulip is nestled between red tulips in front of the US Capitol building, on April 25, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
National Journal
Billy House
April 27, 2014, 6:38 a.m.

Law­makers re­turn from their spring break on Monday to a bevy of busi­ness, in­clud­ing two fisc­al 2015 spend­ing bills in the House as Con­gress be­gins the ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess.

Yet there is little ex­pect­a­tion that the House and Sen­ate will fully hash out and pass all 12 an­nu­al spend­ing meas­ures by the Oct. 1 start of the new fisc­al year.

With scant de­sire in an elec­tion year to wrestle with some of the thorny is­sues lurk­ing in those bills, a plan is already be­ing dis­cussed is to keep most fed­er­al agen­cies and func­tions fun­ded via a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion and to put off tough de­cisions un­til after the Nov. 4 elec­tion.

The bills to be taken up by the House this week are the non­con­tro­ver­sial Mil­it­ary Con­struc­tion-Vet­er­ans Af­fairs and Le­gis­lat­ive Branch spend­ing meas­ures. Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor wrote in a memo to fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans on Fri­day that the Com­merce, Justice, Sci­ence, and Re­lated Agen­cies bill is also be­ing teed up for ac­tion.

Mean­while, the Sen­ate re­turns from the break ready to take ac­tion on nom­in­ees and a min­im­um-wage bill that Demo­crat­ic lead­ers have prom­ised for months they would bring to the floor. But Wed­nes­day’s pro­ced­ur­al vote is not ex­pec­ted to win the 60 votes needed to ad­vance the bill, which Re­pub­lic­ans de­cry as an elec­tion-year meas­ure by Demo­crats de­signed to en­er­gize their base.

Also on tap in Con­gress this week:

  • The House will be­gin its markup on the Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act. While re­tir­ing House Armed Ser­vice Com­mit­tee Chair­man Buck McK­eon has already an­nounced that he would not in­clude im­mig­ra­tion-re­lated policies in the com­mit­tee’s bill, some at­tempts to at­tach those could be offered.
  • The Sen­ate will re­sume ses­sion on Monday with a roll-call vote to con­firm the nom­in­a­tion of Michelle Fried­land to the U.S. Ap­peals Court for the 9th Cir­cuit.
  • Sen­ate clo­ture and con­firm­a­tion votes also are set on nom­in­ee Dav­id Weil as ad­min­is­trat­or of the Labor De­part­ment’s Wage and Hour Di­vi­sion, and a con­firm­a­tion vote is be held on the nom­in­a­tion of Kath­leen O’Regan as as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary for policy de­vel­op­ment and re­search at the Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment De­part­ment.
  • Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id also has filed clo­ture on six dis­trict court nom­in­a­tions. Those votes are ex­pec­ted on Tues­day, in­clud­ing one on Man­ish S. Shah to be a dis­trict judge for the North­ern Dis­trict of Illinois.
  • The House Rules Com­mit­tee will meet Monday to set floor pro­ced­ures for an­oth­er vote on a bill ex­empt­ing ex­pat­ri­ate health plans from the Af­ford­able Care Act. The bill re­ceived ma­jor­ity sup­port in a 257-159 vote in early April, but that was un­der a pro­ced­ure usu­ally set aside for non­con­tro­ver­sial meas­ures that re­quires two-thirds ma­jor­ity sup­port. Hav­ing fallen short of that, the bill is be­ing re­turned to the floor un­der pro­ced­ures re­quir­ing a simple ma­jor­ity for pas­sage.
  • On Thursday, the Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing on the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s trade agenda. Some trade is­sues lie along a polit­ic­al fault line: Be­fore leav­ing to be Pres­id­ent Obama’s am­bas­sad­or to China, Max Baucus ne­go­ti­ated a deal on trade-pro­mo­tion au­thor­ity with his House coun­ter­part. The agree­ment had buy-in from the White House, but Re­id op­poses TPA and is block­ing the meas­ure from mov­ing out of the cham­ber.
  • The Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee on Tues­day will hold a hear­ing on in­nov­a­tion and fed­er­al in­vest­ment, with En­ergy Sec­ret­ary Ern­est Mon­iz and Na­tion­al In­sti­tutes of Health Dir­ect­or Fran­cis Collins among those testi­fy­ing.
  • The Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day will re­view the Bo­ston Mara­thon bomb­ing case, more than a year after the at­tack.
  • The Sen­ate Rules Com­mit­tee will wade in­to the polit­ic­al money wars Wed­nes­day with a hear­ing on the land­scape fol­low­ing the Mc­Cutcheon Su­preme Court case. Since the high court threw out ag­greg­ate fund­ing lim­its in its re­cent rul­ing on Mc­Cutcheon v. FEC, donors no longer face a cap on their over­all giv­ing to can­did­ates and com­mit­tees.


Spend­ing Bills Hit Floor

The 2015 Le­gis­lat­ive Branch ap­pro­pri­ations bill to be voted on by the House this week cov­ers such things as fund­ing for mem­bers’ of­fices, se­cur­ity, and oth­er sup­port agen­cies for Con­gress, along with ser­vices for vis­it­ors, Cap­it­ol op­er­a­tions, and main­ten­ance. The total price tag in­cluded for the House and joint op­er­a­tions, ex­clud­ing Sen­ate-only items, is $3.3 bil­lion.

The le­gis­la­tion also in­cludes a pro­vi­sion to freeze the pay of mem­bers, pre­vent­ing any in­creases in fisc­al 2015. A freeze has been in place since 2010.

The 2015 Mil­it­ary Con­struc­tion and Vet­er­ans Af­fairs ap­pro­pri­ations bill, which con­tains fund­ing to train and equip troops, provide hous­ing and ser­vices to mil­it­ary per­son­nel and their fam­il­ies, help main­tain base in­fra­struc­ture, and fund vet­er­ans’ be­ne­fits and pro­grams, also comes to the House floor.

The le­gis­la­tion provides $71.5 bil­lion in dis­cre­tion­ary fund­ing — a cut of $1.8 bil­lion be­low the fisc­al 2014 level. But the com­mit­tee says it in­creases fund­ing for vet­er­ans’ pro­grams by $1.5 bil­lion.

As the House moves for­ward with its ver­sions of spend­ing bills, Sen­ate ap­pro­pri­at­ors this week have a full hear­ing sched­ule, lead­ing up to markups that are ex­pec­ted to be­gin in late May, ac­cord­ing to aides.

Ap­pro­pri­ations sub­com­mit­tees will be re­view­ing budget re­quests from the Edu­ca­tion De­part­ment, the Forest Ser­vice, the Army, the Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion, and NASA.


Wa­ter Regs in Fo­cus

Con­ser­vat­ives on the House Trans­port­a­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee plan to put the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency in their crosshairs at a field hear­ing in Altoona, Pa.

The fo­cus is a re­cent wa­ter reg­u­la­tion that Re­pub­lic­ans are call­ing fed­er­al over­reach and a threat to eco­nom­ic growth.

Back in Wash­ing­ton, House Re­pub­lic­ans’ at­tempt to over­haul the na­tion’s chem­ic­al-man­age­ment sys­tem is to get its first hear­ing on Tues­day as the En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee con­siders the Chem­ic­als in Com­merce Act. The draft bill, which would re­form the 1976 Tox­ic Sub­stances Con­trol Act, has not drawn sup­port from Demo­crats and pub­lic health groups, but spon­sor John Shimkus of Illinois says he wants to reach a bi­par­tis­an agree­ment be­fore mov­ing the bill if pos­sible.

The House Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee will con­tin­ue to look at labor is­sues as­so­ci­ated with the oil and gas in­dustry Tues­day with a hear­ing on op­por­tun­it­ies for skilled work­ers. Among the wit­nesses will be TV star Mike Rowe, who also heads a found­a­tion to pro­mote skilled labor and trade work.

The Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee on Thursday will look in­to the root causes be­hind a series of pro­pane short­ages this winter.


SEC in Spot­light

The House Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee will hear from Se­cur­it­ies and Ex­change Com­mis­sion Chair­wo­man Mary Jo White on Tues­day about her agency’s agenda, budget, and op­er­a­tions.

Also on Tues­day, the Sen­ate Bank­ing Com­mit­tee will mark up a bi­par­tis­an bill that would es­tab­lish the Fed­er­al Mort­gage In­sur­ance Cor­por­a­tion. The Hous­ing Fin­ance Re­form and Tax­pay­er Pro­tec­tion Act also would shut­ter Fan­nie Mae and Fred­die Mac, among oth­er pro­vi­sions.


A Look at Drug Ab­use

The House En­ergy and Com­merce Over­sight and In­vest­ig­a­tions Sub­com­mit­tee plans to hold a hear­ing Tues­day on pre­scrip­tion-drug and heroin ab­use, with rep­res­ent­at­ives of the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Na­tion­al In­sti­tutes of Health, and oth­er agen­cies sched­uled to testi­fy.

The Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee will tackle the is­sue of drug con­trol this week, with testi­mony from the ad­min­is­trat­or of the DEA set for Wed­nes­day re­gard­ing over­sight of the fed­er­al agency.

The com­mit­tee’s Health Sub­com­mit­tee has a hear­ing set for Thursday on emer­ging health tech­no­lo­gies.


Ukraine and Pentagon Budget

Con­gress plans to make head­way on the Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act this week and con­tin­ue to mon­it­or the situ­ation with Rus­sia in the Ukraine.

Two House Armed Ser­vices sub­com­mit­tees mark up their pieces of the de­fense bill on Wed­nes­day and Thursday. Mean­while, the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee con­tin­ues to re­view the Pentagon’s de­fense budget re­quest, also in pre­par­a­tion for its NDAA ac­tion in mid-May.

On Tues­day the SASC hears testi­mony on the struc­ture of the Air Force, and on Wed­nes­day the com­mit­tee holds a hear­ing on re­form­ing the de­fense ac­quis­i­tion sys­tem.

The Sen­ate pan­el also has two closed hear­ings sched­uled: a sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing on coun­terter­ror­ism policy on Tues­day and a full com­mit­tee brief­ing Thursday on the Ukrain­i­an crisis and Rus­sia.

The House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee also ex­am­ines the Rus­sia situ­ation, hold­ing a joint sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing on U.S.-Rus­sia nuc­le­ar arms ne­go­ti­ations on the Ukraine and bey­ond on Tues­day.

In the Sen­ate, the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee looks at Afgh­anistan bey­ond 2014 on Wed­nes­day.

Also on Wed­nes­day, the Sen­ate Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tee digs in­to the prob­lems of over­med­ic­a­tion in a hear­ing on Wed­nes­day.

Michael Catalini, Stacy Kaper, Clare Foran, Shane Goldmacher and Sophie Novack contributed to this article.
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