Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Benjamin Krinsky
Thursday, September 20, 2018

Congress Returns from Summer Recess; Appropriations Move Ahead with Deadline Looming; NIH Director Testifies about Peer Review, Research Priorities

Congress returned this week to tackle a daunting list of legislative priorities. In addition to fiscal year (FY) 2019 appropriations, the Senate will begin its formal consideration of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the United States Supreme Court.

Both chambers will simultaneously negotiate the Farm Bill, a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, water resources legislation, and a package of bills to address the opioid crisis. With only 11 legislative days between Labor Day and the fiscal year’s end, Congress will likely use a continuing resolution (CR), a temporary spending measure, to keep the government open and pass some of the outstanding bills.

On the appropriations front, House and Senate leadership have been bundling sets of FY19 appropriations bills into larger spending measures called “minibuses” to expedite passage. As of September 4, the full House has passed measures that include 6 of 12 appropriations bills. In contrast, the Senate has passed measures that include 9 of 12 appropriations bills (See table below).

As illustrated in this table, the minibuses considered by each chamber contain different sets of bills. While the Senate steered clear of controversial policy riders in its appropriations measures, the House bills include more contentious language. As Congress continues to hammer out differences between the House and Senate versions of each measure, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) said that the first minibus (containing Energy and Water and Military Construction/VA appropriations) is his priority and hopes it will come to a vote as soon as this week. In addition, the House is expected to proceed to conference with the Senate minibus that includes both the Defense and the Labor, Health, and Human Services funding, which includes the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

One additional appropriations sticking point is funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The White House’s willingness to sign appropriations measures that do not include border wall funding is unclear. Congressional leadership would like to postpone an immigration fight until after the mid-term elections.

Indeed, three appropriations bills (Commerce, Justice, Science; Homeland Security; and Foreign Operations) have not yet come to a vote in the House or Senate due to ongoing immigration controversies. Because the Commerce, Justice, and Science bill contains National Science Foundation (NSF) funding, the fate of NSF appropriations is uncertain. Thus, a CR is near certain to provide stop-gap funding for at least these three parts of the federal government; lawmakers have suggested that such a CR could last well into December.