Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Benjamin Krinsky
Thursday, February 28, 2019

Lawmakers Try to Reach Spending Agreement before Deadline; President Delivers State of the Union; Administration’s Budget Request Delayed

With the continuing resolution (CR) that funds the government set to expire on Friday, legislators scrambled this week to find a political solution to keep the government operating past February 15.

On Monday, a bicameral conference committee announced that it had reached a compromise on Department of Homeland Security funding. The Homeland Security bill has been at the center of the dispute over the President’s proposed border wall and other aspects of the U.S. immigration system.

Negotiations stalled over the weekend when Democrats called for a provision to cap the number of beds at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities in an effort to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants the agency can detain. The provision’s stated goal is forcing the agency to refocus its efforts on criminals and those who pose a security threat. Republicans denounced this cap, saying that ICE should be given broader discretion.

The proposed compromise no longer includes this cap and would provide $1.375 billion for 55 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. The measure would also finalize fiscal year (FY) 2019 appropriations for the six outstanding bills: Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration, Commerce-Justice-Science, Financial Services, Interior-Environment, State and Foreign Operations, and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.

With regard to scientific research, the agreement provides the National Science Foundation with approximately $8.1 billion, an increase of $307 million over FY 2018.

At press time, both chambers of Congress were poised to vote on the measure, though it is not certain that President Trump will sign it. However, on Wednesday the President did signal his desire to avoid another government shutdown. In the event the package is voted down or vetoed, Congress would have to pass another CR to keep government agencies operating.

In other news, the President delivered his State of the Union Address on February 5. In his speech, President Trump announced a new initiative to curtail the HIV epidemic in the United States. According to the plan’s fact sheet, the initiative would deploy Department of Health and Human Services resources to the 48 U.S. counties with the highest HIV burden, along with Washington, DC, San Juan, PR, and seven states with a “substantial rural HIV burden.” The President also announced his goal to spend $500 million over 10 years for pediatric cancer research.

More details about these new initiatives are expected in the Administration’s FY 2020 budget request. Typically released in early February, work on the President’s budget was delayed due to the government shutdown. A top-level summary of the request is scheduled for release on March 11, with more detailed information released a week later.