APPROPRIATIONS

What to watch in House spending bills

After months of delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, House lawmakers are beginning work in earnest on fiscal 2021 appropriations bills.

But tight spending caps, election-year messaging and a Senate impasse guarantee measures coming out this week won't have an easy path to becoming law.

The House Appropriations Committee last night released its State Department, Agriculture and Military Construction proposals. Today the panel will release its Interior-EPA and Energy-Water plans.

With more releases and a slew of markups planned, here's what to watch over the next two weeks:

Frenetic schedule

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House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) wants the chamber to pass all 12 fiscal 2021 spending bills by the end of the month. The process usually takes months.

Appropriations subcommittees will be voting on bills through Wednesday. They usually release them 24 hours before markup.

Thursday and Friday will see the first full committee markups, starting with Agriculture, State-Foreign Operations and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs.

On Friday, the Appropriations Committee will tackle its Legislative Branch measure and the perennially controversial Interior-Environment bill.

While House Democratic leaders have yet to announce a floor schedule for the bills, it seems likely that they'll move in multiple packages, known as minibuses, or a single catchall piece of legislation, known as an omnibus.

Broader spending packages will likely leave less room for floor amendments, and they'll also almost certainly invite criticism from the White House and Republicans over their size and a lack of scrutiny.

Tight funding

Federal agencies should expect largely flat funding this year, under the second year of a bipartisan budget accord struck last summer. Congressional Democrats traded a large boost in fiscal 2020 for only a modest increase for fiscal 2021.

Hoyer predicted there will be a "small incremental increase" with domestic discretionary spending capped at $635 billion for fiscal 2021, an only $5 billion increase above current spending.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), the chairwoman of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, told E&E News this spring she did not expect spending bills to be "radically different either in size or content than what we put on the floor last year" (E&E Daily, April 20).

Current Interior Department funding for fiscal 2020 is $13.86 billion, including $13.5 billion in discretionary spending. EPA funding is at $9.1 billion.

McCollum is expected to carve out money for some priorities, including more money for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and EPA dollars for Great Lakes conservation, a priority she shares with the panel's top Republican, David Joyce of Ohio.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, has said a top priority for this year's spending bill would be rebuilding infrastructure by looking for ways to expand funding for Army Corps of Engineer water projects.

She also has called for more "clean energy innovation" to combat climate change, which is likely to translate to strong funding for Department of Energy research and development.

For example, appropriators seem likely to reject the White House's proposed 75% cut to DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and instead keep the research and development shop funded at its current level of $2.8 billion.

While the annual funding bills might not offer much new spending, the nearly $3 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act that Congress passed this spring did offer some new emergency spending for energy and environmental agencies and initiatives.

Among the funding was $1.5 billion to expand Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program grants, $50 million for EPA environmental justice grants, and $71 million for Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife-borne disease prevention programs.

Riders

Hoyer is calling for most spending bill amendments to be settled in committee this year rather than force high-profile and time-consuming floor fights.

Democrats are likely to seek provisions in the Interior-EPA bill limiting the Trump administration rollbacks of many Obama-era environmental policies.

Republican appropriators could respond by seeking to remove some of those provisions as they did last year on the floor, although they may move more cautiously in an election year with environmental protections generally viewed as favorable by voters.

A major question surrounding Interior-EPA is whether it will be roiled by a fight over Confederate imagery, an issue that's dogged the spending bill in recent years.

Democrats have signaled they are going to seek language that would prohibit Confederate flags at national parks, the same provision that derailed the spending bill in 2015 when the GOP controlled the House (E&E Daily, June 30).

The Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill includes a rider prohibiting funding for bases named after Confederate leaders.

It's not clear that Republicans will put up much of a fight this time, given the ongoing national protests tied to systemic racism and increasing bipartisan support for removing Confederate symbols across the country.

Energy-Water usually has few contentious riders, although this year a provision to block any DOE funding for nuclear weapons testing is expected.

Democrats were outraged this spring when President Trump floated ending a nearly three-decade hiatus on the tests and have not been satisfied with DOE's response to their concerns about the prospects of new testing.

Senate impasse

While House markups are underway, a partisan dispute in the Senate has held up work on fiscal 2021 spending bills.

Top Democratic and Republican appropriators have had success in moving spending bills through committee the past two years by agreeing to keep out any partisan provisions.

But this year, they have been unable to strike a similar deal, with Democrats saying they want to offer provisions related to the pandemic, which the GOP says should be considered as part of separate emergency spending legislation.

Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said the focus on responding to COVID-19 has dealt a serious blow to fiscal 2021 appropriations.

"Appropriations is not going as well as I would have hoped," she told E&E News in a brief interview last week. "And I regret that because I feel it's so important that you try to stay on task. At this point in time we should be done by now, that was our schedule."

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said last week that "it's getting late but not too late" when asked if the Senate was running out of time to pass spending bills ahead of the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

One former Republican lawmaker, who asked not to be identified, did not rule out some of the fiscal 2021 spending bills being combined with pandemic relief legislation.

The House has passed another multibillion-dollar pandemic bill, the "Heroes Act," that Senate Republicans have said is too large. But they could be open to moving a smaller measure at the end of the month.

One option could be to tie pandemic aid to a spending bill or two, perhaps the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education or Defense bills, to allow both parties to get priorities enacted.

The former lawmaker suggested a deal could come together ahead of both chambers leaving for recess and their party conventions at the end of this month.

Whatever progress is made, it's widely expected Congress will need to pass a stopgap spending bill to avert a shutdown when the new fiscal year begins and current funds run out.

Lawmakers say the continuing resolution will run at least through the elections and perhaps until the next presidential inaugural, potentially leaving it to a new administration and Congress to wrap up fiscal 2021 spending work.

Schedule: The House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee markup is Monday, July 6, at 4 p.m. in 2118 Rayburn and via webcast.

Schedule: The House Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration Appropriations Subcommittee markup is Monday, July 6, at 6 p.m. in 2118 Rayburn and via webcast.

Schedule: The House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee markup is Monday, July 6, at 8 p.m. in 2118 Rayburn and via webcast.

Schedule: The House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee markup is Tuesday, July 7, at 9 a.m. in 2118 Rayburn and via webcast.

Schedule: The House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee markup is Tuesday, July 7, at 11 a.m. in 2118 Rayburn and via webcast.

Schedule: The House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee markup is Tuesday, July 7, at 1 p.m. in 2118 Rayburn and via webcast.

Schedule: The House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee markup is Tuesday, July 7, at 3 p.m. in 2118 Rayburn and via webcast.

Schedule: The House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee markup is Tuesday, July 7, at 5 p.m. in 2118 Rayburn and via webcast.

Schedule: The House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee markup is Wednesday, July 8, at 9 a.m. in 2118 Rayburn and via webcast.

Schedule: The House Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee markup is Wednesday, July 8, at 11 a.m. in 2118 Rayburn and via webcast.

Schedule: The House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee markup is Wednesday, July 8, at 1 p.m. in 2118 Rayburn and via webcast.

Schedule: The House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee markup (closed) is Wednesday, July 8, at 3 p.m.

Schedule: The House Appropriations Committee markup on the State-Foreign Operations, Agriculture and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bills is Thursday, July 9, at 10 a.m. in 1100 Longworth and via webcast.

Schedule: The House Appropriations Committee markup on the Interior-Environment and Legislative Branch bills is Friday, July 10, at 9 a.m. in 1100 Longworth and via webcast.

Reporter Geof Koss contributed.

Twitter: @GeorgeCahlinkEmail: gcahlink@eenews.net

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