Late last week the House of Representatives was working on the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and other agencies (THUD) appropriations bill trying to make it the fourth bill to pass the House. There are twelve appropriations bills (and an annual Defense Department reauthorization that gets adopted at the same time) that need to be passed when the process is on time. The House is attempting to have all bills out of committee and cued up for floor debate by the July 4th recess. Under that schedule the Labor-HHS bill should be coming for a subcommittee “mark-up” or debate within the next two weeks with the full committee acting shortly after that action. To date the House has voted out and sent to the Senate the Energy and Water, Military Construction and the Legislative Branch bills. A total of five have been moved out of committee. The Labor-HHS appropriations will be the biggest challenge.
The last time a bill made it out of committee was 2010 with later houses not even debating a bill or even releasing a draft version. The Labor-HHS spending allocation or total for FY 2016 is $153 billion for the House Committee, in the Senate the Labor-HHS allocation is $156 billion. The Senate bill keeps current spending levels (FY 15) while the House cuts $3 billion below the 2014 mark. So the House will have to make deep cuts in some programs. The frozen Senate funding would cause significant problems because there is a strong desire to increase health research under the National Institutes of Health (NIH). So the House challenge is even greater because even with the reduction below current and Senate levels, any House bill may raise the ire of conservative members who may demand even deeper cuts while Democrats will highlight just how big cuts will be under the current spending limitations.
On the Senate side, Democrats have begun to send a clear message that they will not allow appropriations to move forward short of a new spending agreement. Before the break, the Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) informed the majority party that the President would veto any appropriations legislation that followed the current budget caps. She also indicated that Democrats would challenge the process if appropriations go forward under those caps. Later last week Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) confirmed that strategy on the part of the minority party. To this point the Senate has approved only Energy and Water and Military Construction through the full committee.
The budget agreement written into law (after 2010) placed equal budget caps on defense and domestic spending but this year’s budget resolution allows Congress to count the extra defense funding as an emergency thus avoiding breaking the cap for defense while keeping it in place for domestic spending.