Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Benjamin Krinsky
Thursday, July 12, 2018

Supreme Court Pick Announced; House Committee Approves Increase for Biomedical Research; Minibus Packages Move Forward

Congress returned from its Fourth of July recess this week facing tumultuous political decisions. On July 9, President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh for a seat on the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Because of the sheer volume of documents to be reviewed – and the stiff opposition Kavanaugh faces from Senate Democrats – the confirmation process is expected to be time-consuming and will likely delay progress on Senate appropriations bills. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged to keep the Senate in session for much of August with hopes of confirming Kavanaugh and passing further legislation, including appropriations.

After a delay, the full House Appropriations Committee marked up its fiscal year (FY) 2019 Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) bill on July 11. The House bill includes $38.3 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an increase of $1.25 billion over FY 2018. In his opening remarks, LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) reiterated his strong support for NIH and his hope that as the appropriations process moves forward, the budget for the agency could increase even further. Subcommittee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) also voiced her support for an even larger NIH budget. For context, the Senate LHHS bill would provide NIH with $39.1 billion, a $2 billion increase over FY 2018. During the markup, the committee adopted several amendments regarding the separation of immigrant children from their families. The bill passed the committee by a vote of 30-22.

With the approval of the House LHHS bill, the House Appropriations Committee has passed 11 of 12 FY 2019 appropriations bills, while the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved all 12. House and Senate leadership seem to be forging ahead with a strategy to vote on sets of appropriations bills bundled into so-called “minibuses.”

The full House and Senate have already approved versions of “minibus” appropriations packages that combine the Energy & Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction/Veterans Administration appropriations bills. Both versions include increases for the Department of Energy Office of Science and the VA Medical Research Program. The House and Senate have also named conferees to reconcile the differences between the two versions of the bill.

Next week the House will consider a “minibus” that combines the Interior-Environment and Financial Services appropriations bills. Unlike the previous “minibus,” the debate around this bill is expected to be more contentious. Similar to the last round of subcommittee markups, amendments may be offered related to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, marijuana businesses, and other topics. On the Senate side, rumors are that the Senate may bring the LHHS bill to the floor as part of another “minibus” appropriations package the week of July 16, though nothing has yet been scheduled.