Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Wednesday, June 21, 2023
Contentious House Appropriations Markups Restart

The week of June 12 marked the restart of markups for supposedly the easiest or less controversial House Appropriations bills. This was after the Full House Appropriations Committee abruptly cancelled them during the ongoing negotiations of the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 (FRA) that raised the government’s spending cap for two years. However, just as important was the law’s imposition of enforceable spending caps for fiscal years (FY) 2024 and 2025 for both defense and nondefense discretionary spending.

The first bill completed during full committee was the FY 2024 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies bill with a vote of 34 to 27 on June 13. A summary of the bill is here. It provides $938 million until September 30, 2025 for the Medical and Prosthetic Research Program and instructs that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall ensure that sufficient amounts appropriated are available for prosthetic research specifically for female veterans and for toxic exposure research.

Following this bill on June 14, the House full committee marked up and approved the FY 2024 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies bill by a vote of 34 to 27. A summary of the bill is here. It also reported out the full slate of 302(b) allocations for all 12 subcommittees after recessing that evening so that the temperature in the room could cool down after hours of heated debate between Republicans and Democrats over a variety of issues. Republicans fended off accusations by Democrats that they were not upholding their end of the agreement on the debt ceiling deal by treating the statutory levels for defense and nondefense discretionary spending in the FRA as ceilings rather than floors. Democrats complained about the lack of transparency on several side deals reportedly made between the president and Speaker Kevin McCarthy that could impact the total amounts allocated to various funding bills and efforts by Republicans to insert language in the spending bills removing the teaching of critical race theory, preventing the flying of pride flags, and restricting access to abortion.

The Agriculture subcommittee’s allocation of $17.8 billion includes another $7.5 billion that is offset by recouping spending over the last two years and ending pandemic-era programs. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) received $460 million, an increase of $5 million over FY 2023. The committee also rejected the proposed changes to the distribution of funds within the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) as outlined in the president’s budget request. The president’s priorities included addressing climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices, mitigation of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, nutrition security, and promoting prosperity in America’s historically underserved communities. Additionally, he sought $20 million to support Cancer Moonshot efforts. 

In the report accompanying the bill, the committee instructed that within the funds provided for AFRI, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which administers AFRI, is to prioritize funding for projects addressing plant and animal health, emerging pest and disease issues, food safety, plant and animal breeding, improved productivity, precision agriculture, biosecurity, and workforce development. In addition, the committee noted that projects that focus on researching enhanced rock weathering and biochar; assess any environmental or health risks; and identify ways to minimize the environmental impact of silicate rock mining, grinding, and transport are also eligible for AFRI awards. 

In the House Energy and Water Subcommittee markup on June 15, the Office of Science received $8.1 billion, which is equal to the FY 2023 enacted level. These funds would maintain support for the world’s fastest computer and develop the next generation of computing capabilities; increase operations for experimental user facilities; advance fusion energy sciences to bring fusion to the electric grid; and enhance the National Laboratories, the pipeline of foundational research, and America’s role as the global leader of scientific discovery. A summary is available here.

The House Appropriations chair will continue to mark up appropriations bills that limit new spending to the FY 2022 topline level. She also indicated she is committed to recouping $115 billion in funding for unnecessary programs, in order to re-focus government spending on Republican priorities, keeping the total 1 percent lower than if the government were operating under a continuing resolution at the FY 2023 level.