First bills ready to move as disaster deal remains elusive

By Geof Koss, George Cahlink | 04/29/2019 07:18 AM EDT

Capitol Hill returns from spring recess this week to begin the arduous and complicated push to write the 12 fiscal 2020 spending bills.

Committees will hold another round of spending hearings this week.

Committees will hold another round of spending hearings this week. Wikipedia (money); Ed Uthman/Flickr (Capitol)

This story was updated.

Capitol Hill returns from spring recess this week to begin the arduous and complicated push to write the 12 fiscal 2020 spending bills.

The House has the most ambitious goal, with leaders aiming to begin markups this week, have them clear committee by Memorial Day and have them all pass the House floor before the July 4th recess.


The Senate isn’t expected to begin markups until later, with an aim of having the 12 measures approved in committee before the July break.

House appropriators will start tomorrow with the largest non-defense discretionary spending bill, the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education measure.

The Legislative Branch and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs measures are due to move Wednesday. Only subcommittees will vote on the trio of bills this week.

The Energy-Water bill is expected to move as soon as next week at the subcommittee level, while the Interior-EPA bill is not due to be considered until the later part of May.

The full Appropriations Committee will need to approve allocations for the 12 spending bills before they move any of them to the floor.

The House has set overall spending at $1.3 trillion for fiscal 2020, which sets appropriators on course to provide $664 billion for defense and $631 billion for non-defense programs.

Despite the push with split control of Capitol Hill, Congress will likely struggle to get all 12 bills signed into law before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

The House and Senate have failed to come to an accord on overall spending for next year, despite stringent budget caps due to kick in without a change in law.

Energy-Water bipartisanship

Advocates are closely watching to see whether budget negotiations can yield an increase for programs funded by the Energy-Water Development spending measure that funds the Energy Department and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Historically one of the more popular spending bills with both parties because of its broad impact on water infrastructure projects nationwide, Energy-Water is usually one of the earlier appropriations bills to move on both sides of the Capitol.

"Every member of Congress has an Army Corps of Engineers project in their district," said Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) earlier this month.

Simpson predicted that lawmakers will reject proposed cuts to the Army Corps budget, which is likely to end up being propped up "substantially like to the tune of probably 2 billion more."

Deep cuts proposed by the White House to DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are also likely to be jettisoned — as key renewable energy trade groups urged appropriators to do last week.

While the House has already adopted spending numbers to guide appropriators, Simpson said his hands are tied until House and Senate negotiators can strike a deal on common funding levels.

"What happens when they get to conference, when you are trying to negotiate differences in bills, but you have different numbers also?" he asked. "That’s going to be a challenge."

Interior-EPA challenges

Spending legislation funding EPA and the Interior Department could be the more contentious to move this year, given deep partisan differences over environmental and land policies.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), the chairwoman of the Interior-EPA Appropriations Subcommittee, has said the bill will ignore the White House request that calls for cutting EPA spending by nearly a third next year. She also wants to avoid partisan policy riders that have made the spending measure among the hardest to get signed into law over the past decade.

Former Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia, who previously served as the top Democrat on the panel, said it is more "aspirational than realistic" that the bill would be free of riders. He said Democrats are anxious to push back against Trump’s environmental policies and attaching riders to a must-pass spending bill may be one of their best options.

Moran expects McCollum will be able to get the measure out of committee, but he said if riders are attached it could hamstring it on the floor, where the GOP would tie it up with time-consuming amendments. He said it could find more success on the floor if it were combined with other bills in a minibus spending package.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said last month he was open to moving spending bills in packages of three or four bills to meet his goal of having them all finished by July. A similar strategy worked last year for moving many of the House’s bills by midsummer.

Disaster dilemma

Talks will also resume this week on freeing up a stalled package of disaster aid for states and territories that are continuing to recover from extreme weather events over the past two years, including hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes and flooding.

The House will vote on a new, nearly $17 billion package, H.R. 2157, unveiled before the two-week recess by Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) that aims to break the logjam, which centers around President Trump’s opposition to sending more emergency aid to Puerto Rico.

Trump has complained that the island territory has already received sufficient recovery aid, while also questioning its government’s fiscal management abilities.

Lowey’s proposal would add about $3 billion in additional assistance for Midwest states recovering from spring flooding as well as funds for preparing for future storm risks. It mirrors a proposal floated by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Appropriations Committee ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), which has not yet seen a vote in the Senate.

Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said this month that the White House was cool to the Schumer-Leahy proposal. His own $14 billion plan was blocked by Senate Democrats earlier this month to protest what they said was insufficient funds for Puerto Rico (E&E Daily, April 2).

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who is anxious to see billions of dollars in aid flow to farmers struggling to recover from hurricane losses in his state and elsewhere in the South, said that Trump "is open to pretty much anything right now to get relief to these people" in a number of states.

Perdue complained that Democrats have rejected several plans offered by Trump over the past three weeks.

"We are still negotiating back and forth again, but this is the most frustrating process I have been involved with up here," he told reporters last week. "This is beyond ridiculous, it’s time to get this done."

Beyond markups, Appropriations panels and other committees are continuing their barrage of hearing on spending.

Schedule: The House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee hearing on the NOAA budget is Tuesday, April 30, at 10 a.m. in 2318 Rayburn

Witness: Acting NOAA Administrator Neil Jacobs.

Schedule: The House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the FEMA budget is Tuesday, April 30, at 1 p.m. in 2359 Rayburn.

Witness: Acting FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor.

Schedule: The House Appropriations subcommittee markup on the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill is Tuesday, April 30, at 4 p.m. in 2358-C Rayburn.

Schedule: The House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Defense budget is Wednesday, May 1, at 10 a.m. in 2359 Rayburn.


  • Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  • Patrick Shanahan, acting secretary of Defense
  • David Norquist, Defense comptroller and CFO.

Schedule: The House Armed Services subcommittee hearing on military environment spending is Wednesday, May 1, at 2:30 p.m. in 2122 Rayburn.


  • Robert McMahon, assistant secretary of Defense for sustainment.
  • John Henderson, assistant Air Force secretary for installations, environment and energy.
  • Alex Beehler, assistant Army secretary for installations, energy and environment.
  • Todd Mellon, performing the duties of principal deputy assistant Navy secretary for energy, installations and environment.

Schedule: The Senate Appropriations hearing on the NASA budget is Wednesday, May 1, at 2:30 p.m. in 192 Dirksen.

Witnesses: TBA.

Schedule: The Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission budget is Wednesday, May 1, at 2:30 p.m. in 138 Dirksen.

Witnesses: TBA.

Schedule: The House Appropriations subcommittee markup on the Military Construction bill is Wednesday, May 1, at 3 p.m. in HT-2 Capitol.

Schedule: The Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education spending bill is Thursday, May 2, at 10 a.m. in 124 Dirksen.

Witnesses: TBA.

Reporter Kellie Lunney contributed.