Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Benjamin Krinsky
Thursday, August 15, 2019

President Signs Budget Deal into Law; Congress on Recess; Senate Appropriations Process to Resume in Fall

On August 2, the President signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, codifying an agreement that raises the Budget Control Act spending caps. The law also suspends the debt ceiling until July 2021, avoiding a default on U.S. government debt.

Relative to the current FY 2019 budget, the law increases non-defense discretionary spending by $24.5 billion (about 4 percent) in FY 2020, excluding funding for Overseas Contingency Operations and the FY 2020 census. The non-defense discretionary side of the ledger includes the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and other science funding agencies. The bill’s passage also signals the end of the Budget Control Act discretionary spending caps, which are due to expire after FY 2021.

Both the House and the Senate are now officially on summer recess. The two chambers reconvene September 9.

When legislators return to Washington, the House and Senate will try to finalize FY 2020 appropriations before the end of the fiscal year on September 30. The House has already passed 10 of 12 appropriations bills as a series of “minibus” packages, including measures to fund NIH, NSF, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Energy.

The Senate has yet to mark up any appropriations bills. Reports indicate that Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) has assigned spending figures called 302(b) allocations to each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees, though the exact numbers are not public. He has told reporters he expects his committee to begin marking up bills as soon as Senators return from summer recess. Spending bills likely to be considered first are Defense; Labor, Health and Human Services (which includes NIH); and possibly Energy and Water (which includes the Department of Energy Office of Science).

Once the Senate considers its bills, the House and Senate will have to negotiate final spending measures. One complication in this process is that, in marking up their bills, House appropriators used a total non-defense discretionary spending level of $631 billion; the just-passed budget deal sets this cap at $621.5 billion. In the course of negotiations with the Senate, the House will have to reduce the total amount across spending bills by $9.5 billion, or 1.5 percent.

Another possible sticking point may be policy riders. Though congressional leadership and the White House informally agreed that no so-called “poison pill” policy directives on politically controversial topics would be included in final appropriations bills, what constitutes a poison pill is open to interpretation. There will likely be fraught political battles when legislators return from their summer recess.