Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Benjamin Krinsky
Thursday, December 20, 2018

Shutdown Threat Looms; Senate Science Committee Membership Changes; Research Champion Announces Retirement

As year’s end approaches, Congress remains at a stalemate over fiscal year (FY) 2019 appropriations. Seven appropriations bills have yet to be finalized, including funding for the National Science Foundation and the Department of Agriculture.

The main sticking point remains the White House’s insistence that Congress provide $5 billion towards construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall; House and Senate Democrats remain firmly opposed to this proposal. Senate Democrats have indicated they would vote for a measure that includes $1.6 billion for various border security measures, the level of funding approved by Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee back in June.

The current continuing resolution (CR) that funds the government expires on December 21. Members of Congress from both parties have expressed a willingness to pass another CR to allow negotiations to continue, but as of early this week, it was not clear if the President would be inclined to support another short-term funding bill. At press time, negotiations were ongoing between the White House and senior congressional leadership about a possible CR to fund the government through early February.

In the event no funding agreement is reached, a partial government shutdown will result: those parts of the government without finalized appropriations will close. However, other programs and departments including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Energy, and the Department of Veterans Affairs will remain open because their FY 2019 appropriations have already been passed into law.

Meanwhile, as Congress looks ahead to its 116th session, several leadership positions have fallen into place. With the defeat of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) in the 2018 midterm election, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) will become ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) will replace Senator Cantwell as Ranking Member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The Senate has also released a provisional 2019 legislative calendar.

In other Congressional news, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced he won’t seek re-election in 2020. He serves as Chair of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which oversees NIH. Sen. Lamar also serves as Chair of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, which is responsible for Department of Energy appropriations, among other programs.