With Congress returning and approximately 27 to 24 potential days in session for the House and Senate before their summer break, appropriations bills are likely to be the prime focus.
That leaves little space for addressing the Families first draft legislation unless there is some strong consensus between the two houses. There are also some other items that might need to be cued up for a September finish such as substance use legislation and TANF reauthorization.
Shortly before the Memorial Day break, (Wednesday, May 25) the House appropriations process came to a crashing halt when the Energy and Water (HR 5055) bill went down to defeat in the House of Representatives by a vote of 112-305. Most Democrats were opposed when the bill hit the floor but many conservative Republicans abandoned the bill after an amendment was attached that would reinforce the President’s executive order that prohibits discrimination under federal contracts toward LGBTQ populations.
The amendment had temporarily tripped up the Military Construction bill (HR 4974) when a similar amendment was at first adopted and then stripped after several Republicans reversed their votes. The amendment to the Energy and Water appropriations was a modified version that was offered under the amendment process. It was later denounced by Congressman Rick Allen (R-GA) who denounced it as anti-religious and who read a passage from the Bible to back up his point of view.
All of the debate raises big concerns going forward. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WS) has attempted an “open rule” process that allows members to offer amendments without some of the recent debate restrictions. The downside is that it opens the appropriations bills to a multitude of controversies going forward with time running short.
The Labor-HHS-Education appropriations has not been taken up in either house in either subcommittee. The Senate is likely to take it up in Subcommittee on June 7 with a full Appropriations mark-up on June 9. It is unclear what the House will allow under its spending caps. National groups, including CWLA, have asked for $1.2 billion new investment in the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). This $1.2 billion is an attempt to support the implementation of the new CCDBG law and also ensure that no children lose child care assistance.
To date The House has voted out of Committee: Agriculture (HR 5054) and Defense (HR 5293), Military Construction (HR 4974) and Transportation-House (HR 2577) and the Energy and Water (HR 5055) is on hold for a floor vote.
For the Senate the Appropriations Committee has passed Agriculture (S 2956), Commerce-Justice (S 2837), Energy and Water (S 2804), the Legislative Branch (S2955), Military Construction S 2806) and Transportation-Housing (S 2844).
In addition to the on-going appropriations challenge has been a deadlock over the emergency funding request by the Administration to address the Zika virus. The House has moved a bill HR 5243 on a party line vote. It provides $622 million which is less than half of what the President has asked for. The Senate struck a bipartisan deal at $1.2 billion and now the two bills will be negotiated.