Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Benjamin Krinsky
Thursday, December 6, 2018

Spending Negotiations Hit Wall as Deadline Looms; Work Requirements Cropped from Farm Bill

Congress returned from Thanksgiving break on November 27 facing numerous legislative tasks before the end of the year. Despite ongoing political battles, there are glimmers of hope that Congress may make progress on several important bills.

The most pressing issue for the scientific community is whether Congress will finalize the remaining fiscal year (FY) 2019 spending bills. Programs across seven bills – including National Science Foundation and Department of Agriculture appropriations – remain funded by the continuing resolution (CR) set to expire December 7. In recent days, appropriators have indicated they are close to resolving differences between House and Senate spending measures, with hopes of passing a combined package this year.

But a major unresolved issue remains: funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) has suggested $5 billion in wall funding, matching the president’s request, spread over two years. But how two-year funding would be covered given current spending limits and the mechanics of the annual appropriations cycle is unclear. Senate Democrats remain opposed to spending more than the $1.6 billion for the wall already proposed in the chamber’s Homeland Security appropriations bill.

Congress has limited time to finish FY 2019 appropriations in this session. At press time, lawmakers were preparing a two-week CR to keep the government open past December 7.

In other congressional news, House and Senate negotiators reached agreement on the Farm Bill November 29. After a long impasse, House Republicans agreed to drop controversial new work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients. The compromise measure reauthorizes the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, federal crop insurance, and a host of other agricultural programs for five years.

Looking ahead to the 116th Congress, House Majority Leader-Elect Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has released the House Floor Schedule for 2019. On the other side of the aisle, Kay Granger (R-TX) will become Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee.