To date both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have approved all twelve of their FY17 spending bills. The Senate has passed three and the House six of the FY17 bills so far.
The Senate on Thursday rejected a second attempt to move toward a vote on the Military Construction-VA and Zika conference report. The move was the last opportunity for Congress to send additional money to fight Zika to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health before leaving for a seven-week recess. Sixty votes were needed for the report to advance toward a final passage vote.
In addition, for the second time in a week, the Senate on Thursday failed to get the 60 votes necessary to move to consideration of the annual Defense spending bill, pushing off consideration of the measure until at least September. Democrats have said they are wary of proceeding to the defense bill because they don’t trust their counterparts to follow through with the rest of the appropriations process.
Given that Congress left town Thursday for the summer recess through Labor Day, a continuing resolution (CR) is going to be needed to keep the government running past September 30.
House Republicans were scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss how to keep the government open past the end of the fiscal year on September 30, but the highly anticipated conference meeting was canceled.
Conservative Republicans, appropriators, and defense hawks have different ideas on how to fund the federal government past September 30th.
Members of the House Freedom Caucus and several members of the Republican Study Committee have called for a six-month continuing resolution to run through March 2017, but Senate Democrats and appropriators from both parties have said they do not like that idea and could oppose it during floor votes. However, several top Senate Republicans said on Thursday that they also prefer a six-month CR. Any CR would also need President Barack Obama’s signature before October 1 to avoid a government shutdown.
The House Appropriations Committee Tuesday morning released the report accompanying their FY17 Labor HHS bill. A copy of the report can be found here. The Committee met all day on Wednesday and returned on Thursday to finish consideration of the bill, which passed 31-19. The committee adopted five amendments over the course of the markup, but Republicans defeated more than 20 Democratic amendments on a wide range of issues.
On Wednesday, the committee considered several amendments throughout the day, including one offered by Subcommittee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to increase NIH funding by $750 million, for a total of $2 billion or the same level included in the Senate FY17 bill.
The amendment would have allocated $550 million of the increase to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for the Cancer Moonshot initiative, with the remaining funds proportionately distributed to the other institutes and centers at NIH. The amendment would have been offset by declaring funding provided in the House bill for opioids and for an Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund as emergency funding. The amendment failed on a party line vote of 19-29.
During the debate, Chairman Cole acknowledged the “importance of building on what we accomplished [for NIH] last year and even what we’ve proposed this year so far,” and stated, “Frankly, I don’t have much doubt over the course of the bill that we will be able to raise the number that’s already in the base bill substantially, working together across the aisle, because our friends in the Senate have the same goal.”
Committee members also discussed NIH funding during debate on an amendment offered by full Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY) to provide $1.9 billion in emergency funding to respond to Zika. The Zika amendment failed, 21-29.
The Senate on Thursday agreed to move to conference on the FY17 defense authorization bill by a vote of 90-7. The agreement to invoke cloture on the motion to move to conference on the bipartisan bill came one day after the House and Senate hosted their first meeting to kick off bicameral negotiations on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The chamber also approved, 84-12, two motions to instruct conferees, including one from New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen addressing the visa program for Afghans who served as interpreters for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, many of whom face death threats there.
Senators approved, 85-12, another motion to instruct conferees offered by Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan on authorizing adequate funding to maintain sufficient forces for worldwide military operations. Sullivan’s motion comes in the wake of President Barack Obama’s recent decisions to boost the size of the forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Republicans in both chambers have lambasted the White House for not requesting any funding to pay for increased presence overseas, or providing an estimate of the costs. After a closed-door meeting Wednesday, the leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees expressed optimism they will resolve differences in the two bills and come to an agreement on a final conference report.
They would not address head-on the prospect for an expansive veto threat already lodged by the administration on both the House and Senate versions of the bill.
McCain called the well-attended meeting a “very fruitful discussion,” while his House counterpart, Republican Mac Thornberry of Texas, said the committees are “off to a good start.”
The Senate on Wednesday voted 92-2 to pass the conference report for the legislative package addressing the opioid misuse and overdose epidemic. The House passed the legislation last Friday, and it now heads to the President’s desk for signature.
In a statement following passage, the White House stated, “While the President will sign this bill once it reaches his desk because some action is better than none, he won’t stop fighting to secure the resources this public health crisis demands.”
Lawmakers left town on Thursday for a seven week recess. The next month and a half members will focus on conventions and campaigning, returning to session on Tuesday, September 6th to address unfinished spending bills, among other legislation.
A stopgap spending measure likely will be needed in September to avoid a government shutdown when FY16 expires on September 30. But lawmakers have at least laid the groundwork for potentially completing their work later this year.
The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of September 6-9, when Congress returns.
As always, we will keep you apprised of relevant events.