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Advocacy at a Glance

October 19, 2019

Congress Returns; Appears No Closer to Reconciling House and Senate 302(b) Allocations or Solving Border Wall Funding.  The threshold obstacle to moving FY 20 appropriations bills is the lack of an agreement between the House and Senate on the 302(b) allocations to each subcommittee. Reportedly, little progress has been made despite prior agreements on the aggregate spending amount (and also the defense vs. non-defense ceilings). There is no consensus on how much of those totals will be allocated to specific areas. Notably, a main sticking point is how much money will go to Labor-HHS programs versus how much money will go to Homeland Security programs. Even if 302(b) allocations were resolved, Congress also faces a fight over whether border wall funding will be appropriated (and how much, if any) or resolved by acquiescing, by default, to the Administration’s plan to transfer funds from military construction projects.

Does the Current Impasse Over FY 20 Spending Risk a Shutdown?  Both House and Senate appropriators are determined to complete the appropriations process. After all, it’s their job to do so, and failure is both consequential and highly visible. On the other hand, the Washington Post, on October 17, speculated that a shutdown is a possibility, maybe when the current CR expires on November 21.  This week’s Analysis and Commentary explores the question: if the funding impasse continues, could FDA face another shutdown?

Senate to Start Floor Action on Appropriations Bills.  While negotiations continue on 302(b) allocations, the Senate has scheduled debate and votes next week on funding bills that were approved in September by the Senate Appropriations Committee.  Reportedly, Senate Majority Leader McConnell plans to take up the relatively uncontroversial House-passed H.R. 3055 (Commerce-Justice-Science, Ag-FDA, Military Construction-VA, and Transportation-HUD) and substitute the Senate version of funding for those agencies. Interior-Environment may also be tossed in. Politico reports that

If that bundle can win bipartisan support, then the Senate would take up a more difficult second package, H.R. 2740, which includes the Defense, Labor-HHS-Education, State-Foreign Operations and Energy-Water measures.

It is still unclear whether this is: (1) an attempt to firmly establish the Senate position on funding levels before conferencing with the House on 302(b) levels and actual bills, or (2) a prelude to reaching quick agreement with the House on the bills that are not encumbered by controversy (such as Agriculture/FDA) and moving those to the President for signature. So far, the White House (and presumably some Congressional Republicans) feel they would lose leverage unless Defense (and possibly Homeland Security) become law first. Democrats can’t agree to that because they would then lose leverage on domestic funding bills and border wall funding.

House Appropriations Committee Due Shake-Up After 2020 Election. Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, announced that she will not run for re-election. This has already set off a scramble for who will succeed her as the Committee’s top Democrat. Among those committee Democrats likely to be around next Congress and potentially interested in succeeding Lowey are: Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), Rosa L. DeLauro (Connecticut), David Price (North Carolina), and Sanford Bishop (Georgia).  Other senior Democrats have taken themselves out of consideration: Peter Visclosky (Indiana) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (California). Representative Kaptur has the most seniority, but that is no longer the sole criterion to be chairman or ranking member of a House committee.

Annual Budget Deficit Climbs, Threatening Federal Programs, and the Economy. The estimated annual federal deficit (excess of spending over revenues) for FY 19 is $987 billion. This is expected to continue to grow to more than $1 trillion dollars per year for the next few fiscal years. This foreshadows increasing pressures to cut non-defense discretionary spending. As we have noted a number of times, the annual deficit cannot be meaningfully closed by such cuts. The total of all federal discretionary spending (defense as well as non-defense) is itself just a bit over $1 trillion. Ultimately, Congress must address revenue or non-discretionary programs to generate enough dollars to start reducing the annual deficit.

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