The Senate will return this week on August 15. There will be additional judicial votes but it is expected that they will then turn to appropriations shortly after those actions. The Senate hopes to debate and vote on a bill that will combine both the Defense Department Appropriations bill and the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations.

The combination of the two—usually the two most controversial bills—is an attempt to assure both sides they will get both of their priorities done at the same time. The Senate has now passed seven of the 12 appropriations by combining two to four bills at a time into a “mini-omnibus” bill. Before the House departed for its summer break, both houses had approved one “minibus” appropriations that combines three bills: Energy and Water-Legislative Branch-Military Construction. Overall the House had acted on six of the dozen appropriations. In the 1990s—the last time Congress adhered to a regular appropriation process—the House would pass all bills out of Committee by the July 4th break and then all bills out of the House by the August break with September used to negotiate final House-Senate conference reports. The Senate voted on another minibus earlier this month when they approved H.R. 6147 that includes Agriculture, S. 2976, Financial Services, S. 3107 Interior-Environment, and Transportation-HUD, S. 3023.

This year marks the first time since 1998 that the Senate passed more appropriations bills than the House by the August break.

The Senate appropriations strategy seems to be working with senators offering various amendments and coming to some resolution. Both sides have avoided or solved controversial amendments and issues to this point. There is a “gentleman’s agreement” between Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to avoid poison pill amendments. That will clearly be tested when Labor-HHS is taken up. The House loaded their version with controversy with the Aderholt amendment (see below) and other items restricting immigration. There are few members and staff that were around the last time the Senate had an open debate on the Labor-HHS-Education bill with amendments offered and debated. Only Senators Feinstein (D-CA), Hatch (R-UT), Grassley (R-IA), Leahy (D-VT), McConnell (R-KY), McCain, (R-AZ), Murray (D-WA), Shelby (R-AL) and Wyden (D-OR) were in the Senate the last time all appropriations was completed by the start of the fiscal year on October 1, (1996).

If they can navigate the legislative landmines of amendments, it will then be a question of what the House will do and what the President will or won’t do. House and Senate Appropriations committees will need to negotiate final spending allocations (called 302 b allocations) for the various subcommittees since there is a difference between the two houses on how they divide spending between the 12 bills.

It is expected that the House will not actually vote on their Committee-passed Labor-HHS appropriations and instead the Senate will be negotiating a bipartisan Senate-passed bill while the House’s version will be a partisan Committee-passed bill. That should provide leverage to the Senate.

The House left with an unclear understanding of whether there is a Republican strategy that would lead to a bipartisan deal and prevent a government shutdown before the election. The President has played up the idea of a shutdown while Republican Congressional leaders would like to finish everything except Homeland Security and Justice so they can fight over immigration and Mexico-wall funding after the election. The President has played up a shutdown as a way to “energize the base” There is a lot of energizing-the-base thinking that may happen before October 1, and that will likely determine how the President acts.

The Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations and the House Appropriations bills have their differences in funding. In their bill, the House has not been as supportive of some child welfare funding. The Senate and House bills include continued funding for CAPTA Plans of Safe Care and funds the state grants at $85 million. 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.