Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Benjamin Krinsky
Thursday, October 18, 2018

Science Nominee Awaits Final Approval; Contentious Spending Fights Ahead; Wrangling Over Farm Bill Continues

Both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have adjourned day-to-day activities in Washington as members hit the campaign trail before the November 6 midterm elections. The Senate gaveled out last Thursday after approving a slate of judicial appointments. Additional nominees, including Kelvin Droegemeier, the President’s pick to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, must wait for full Senate consideration.

Congress faces thorny legislative issues when it returns in mid-November for the “lame duck” session. Ratcheting up the ongoing political fight over immigration, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has drafted legislation to fully fund the U.S.-Mexico border wall at a cost of $23.4 billion. On the Senate side, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) said last week that the proposal to fully fund the wall would create problems as Congress tries to finalize outstanding fiscal year (FY) 2019 spending measures. Democrats strongly oppose wall funding, and any increase for it would mean cuts to other programs in the remaining funding bills.

Previously, the Senate Appropriations Committee proposed $1.6 billion in border wall funding, matching the administration’s FY 2019 budget request. Congress is also working on supplemental spending requests to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Michael and other natural disasters; such a bill might become a wall funding vehicle.

Given the contentiousness of the wall, and because it remains a high priority for President Trump, the specter of a partial government shutdown looms. A shutdown would affect several science funding agencies, including the National Science Foundation, that are provisionally funded at FY 2018 levels under the current continuing resolution.

In other legislative news, House and Senate negotiators continue to wrestle over the farm bill. In addition to disagreements over proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), disputes have broken out over commodity subsidies. If an agreement is not reached before the end of 2018, Congress will have to extend the current farm bill, which includes authorizations for research programs including the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.