Congress Is Quietly Functioning

Two appropriations bills down, 10 to go — in the House, anyway.

Yoshino Cherry trees are in bloom in front of the U.S. Capitol on April 9, 2014 in Washington, DC. Washington's famed Cherry Blossom trees are on track to be in full bloom this weekend.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
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Sarah Mimms
May 2, 2014, 1 a.m.

What’s that? Could it be the pit­ter-pat­ter of fresh ap­pro­pri­ations bills mak­ing their way out of the House?

Con­gress is tasked with writ­ing and ap­prov­ing 12 ap­pro­pri­ations bills by Oct. 1 in or­der to keep the gov­ern­ment fun­ded for an­oth­er year, and this week the House passed two of them with over­whelm­ing ma­jor­it­ies. That could be a pos­it­ive sign for the rest of the year. “This is the earli­est our ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee has star­ted this pro­cess and pro­duced bills since 1974,” House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor said proudly this week.

Each year, Con­gress is ex­pec­ted to pass 12 sep­ar­ate bills fund­ing the gov­ern­ment down to the de­part­ment and pro­gram level — al­loc­at­ing funds for food-as­sist­ance pro­grams, over­seas op­er­a­tions by the De­fense De­part­ment, ag­ri­cul­ture sub­sidies, and myri­ad oth­er as­pects of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.

Or at least that’s how it’s sup­posed to work. Over the last sev­er­al years, Con­gress has had to pass a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion to buy more time for ap­pro­pri­ations bills. But if they’re able to do it this year, it will be the first time since 1996 that Con­gress has wrapped up its ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess on time.

Mem­bers in both cham­bers say they’re well on their way to do­ing so. The House this week passed the Mil­it­ary Con­struc­tion/Vet­er­ans Af­fairs and the Le­gis­lat­ive Branch fund­ing bills. House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­man Har­old Ro­gers, R-Ky., has said that the two meas­ures are just the be­gin­ning for his com­mit­tee and ex­pressed op­tim­ism that they will get their work done on time this year. “We are well un­der­way with the fisc­al ‘15 pro­cess,” he said in a hear­ing this week.

The Sen­ate is mov­ing a little more slowly, though still roughly on par with its typ­ic­al ap­pro­pri­ations sched­ule, and Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Bar­bara Mikul­ski is no less op­tim­ist­ic. Her com­mit­tee has been meet­ing reg­u­larly and will be­gin mark­ing up its own bills at the end of the month, likely be­gin­ning with the Mil­it­ary Con­struc­tion/Vet­er­ans Af­fairs bill and the Ag­ri­cul­ture bill.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id has said he will grant Mikul­ski room on the floor dur­ing the last two weeks of June and the first two weeks of Ju­ly to pass her com­mit­tee’s bills. If both cham­bers pass all 12 bills be­fore the Au­gust re­cess, they’ll have the en­tire month of Septem­ber to go to con­fer­ence and work out their dif­fer­ences.

That’s not much time, but the Ap­pro­pri­ations com­mit­tees have been here be­fore. After the Ry­an-Mur­ray deal gave them their top-line fund­ing num­ber in mid-Decem­ber, staffers from both com­mit­tees spent their Christ­mas re­cess in Wash­ing­ton craft­ing a 12-part om­ni­bus ahead of a po­ten­tial Jan. 15 shut­down — and that was without a full set of 24 House and Sen­ate bills to build off of. Giv­en enough of a head start over the next few months, Septem­ber’s work looks to be much more of a breeze.

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