Last week Congress continued on a path that would allow some appropriations bills to be signed into law by October 1, the start of the fiscal year. Last week Republican leadership met with the President, appointed some House-Senate conferees and continued to negotiate. All of this was done with the President sending some mixed messages. The OMB Director, Mick Mulvaney, said there would not be a government shutdown with most congressional Republicans agreeing. By week’s end the President seemed to be agreeing.

On Wednesday, House and Senate conferees met on the first appropriations that would address three bills, Energy and Water Development—Military Construction and Veterans Affairs—Legislative Branch. If that package reaches agreement it would be sent to the President knocking out the first three of the twelve appropriations. Next up—and the biggest—would be Defense and Labor-HHS-Education. That will be perhaps the biggest test of the strategy.

Also, last Wednesday, House and Senate members announced their conference-committee members: Majority: Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR), and Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL). Minority: Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-IN), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), and Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN). On the Senate side: Majority Senators Richard Shelby (AL), Roy Blunt (MO), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Jerry Moran (R-KS). Minority Senate Conferees are Senators Patrick Leahy (VT), Patty Murray (WA), and Dick Durbin (IL).

The first order of business for the conference on Labor-HHS is the top spending level. Under the Senate bill, HHS would see a $2.3 billion increase (5.4 percent increase for the National Institutes of Health-NIH), education programs increase by $541 million boost and the Labor Department’s budget would remain at 2018 levels. The Senate bill is at approximately $180 billion while the House is at approximately $177 billion. To align the two, House members would have to take the funding from some of the other 9 appropriations bills. At least according to House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the conference negotiations on that measure are moving forward closer to the Senate’s allocation. She was quoted as saying that, “Given that on the House side, Labor-H did not get any increase at all, the Senate did increase $2 billion more. So, that obviously is of help in terms of moving forward, so, the basis for the conference is the Senate bill.”

The Senate approved its bill 85 to 7 while the House was not able to hold a floor vote on their Labor-HHS-Education bill. The House bill includes numerous controversial amendments restricting immigration, family planning funding restrictions and has the objectionable Alderholt amendment restricting states on the recruitment of foster and adoptive. Republican Chair Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) has insisted on keep appropriations bills clear of such controversy.

The Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations and the House are aligned in several child welfare areas but not all. The Senate and House bills include continued funding for CAPTA Plans of Safe Care and funds the state grants at $85 million. An amendment by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Senator Todd Young (R-IN) was adopted on the floor that seeks an additional $10 million for CAPTA state grants likely tied to better enforcement of child sexual abuse reporting. The Senate continues the increase in Adoption-Kinship Incentive funds at the elevated level of $75 million first increased in the March-2018 appropriations while the House sets that at $80 million. The Senate continues to provide an extra $20 million for the Regional Partnership Grants (RPGs) this time for expanded family-based substance abuse treatment while the House does not. The Senate also continues funding for $20 million in Kinship Navigator programs. These grants were also included in the March 2018 appropriations. It is a unique fund in that it will continue to go to all 50 states and the District of Columbia as well as the Tribal communities that are drawing down their own Title IV-E foster care funds. It too is designed to expand the base of practice and models that will be eligible for the Family First Act funding. The House does not include that funding. For a chart comparison look here.