LEGISLATIVE UPDATE AS OF OCTOBER 8, 2019:
On September 26, 2019 the Senate passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to provide spending authority until November 21, 2019 for Fiscal Year 2020 which began on October 1, 2019 avoiding a shutdown and giving more time to develop and pass the 12 appropriation bills. The House had passed the CR on September 19. At the time of this writing the House has passed 10 or the 12 bills and the Senate Appropriations Committee has reported 10 of the 12 bills but has taken no action in the full Senate.Perhaps, the major impediment to finalizing the bills is the continuing debate on funding for Trump’s wall. In the Senate, on October 10 the appropriations committee adopted, on a party line vote, spending ceilings for the subcommittees which would “underfund” the domestic subcommittees to give more generous funding to several subcommittees to fund the wall. The Republicans are also making efforts—strongly resisted by Democratic Members -- to replenish the funds transferred from defense accounts in March to fund the wall.In the last week of September, Senate Appropriation Chairman Richard Shelby met with President Trump to discuss the prospects for FY 2020 appropriations. Shelby told President Trump and OMB officials that if the regular bills were not moved “we would be looking at another CR for three or four weeks, probably another one, and then one for the year”. The next CR is likely to run until just before Christmas, followed by an additional CR into late January or February. However, if no real progress is made this calendar year, Members will be tempted to go straight to a full year CR in December.A full year CR is an adverse outcome for most Federal agencies. For NIH, for example, it would mean flat funding instead of the $2 or $3 billion increase provided by the House and Senate respectively. The CDC would also remain flat instead of receiving the $180.5 million increase the Senate provided or the $937.5 million increase the House provided. In addition to multiple health programs that would be adversely impacted, the Department of Defense would forgo the $15.8 billion increase provided by the House and the $20.5 billion increase recommended by the Senate Appropriations committee.Adding to the momentum of stalemate is the interest to protect the Congressional power of the purse imbedded in Article 1, Section 9, clause 7 of the Constitution stating that “no money shall be drawn down from the Treasury but in consequence of an appropriations made by law”. To sidestep Congress’ power of the purse, the Trump Administration has declared a National emergency due to immigration across the Southern border. The Congress has so far been unable to override Trump’s vetoes of bills to terminate the National emergency and the disagreement is now also being fought in FY 2020 the appropriations process.Despite the overshadowing of impeachment hearings, when the Congress returns on October 15, they will resume efforts to resolve FY 2020 appropriations quagmire.