In Washington, Senate appropriators finally release 2021 budget bills

November 10, 2020

As we discussed on last week’s NYS Council Provider Support & Public Policy call (Thursday mornings at 9:15), at least two critical policy matters face the Lame Duck Congress and Administration.  These are:

1)  Passing a new COVID Relief Bill

2)  (Federal) Budget Reconciliation

As you may recall, agreement on a new federal budget (was required by law as of October 1, 2020) has been kicked down the road on several occasions. At present we are living with prior year budget spending levels via the use of the Continuing Resolution process that more or less maintains the status quo in terms of spending.  The expiration date for the current Continuing Resolution  is December 11.  To avoid a government shut down Senate appropriators must get busy releasing proposed spending bills (below) and the parties must negotiate a deal the President will accept – before 12/11/2020.

Senate appropriators are now moving their budget proposals.  House Dems passed most of their bills over the summer.  There is the chance that some emergency COVID fiscal relief could ‘hitch a ride’ on these budget bills but the likelihood isn’t good since the Senate Rs want to do a select few emergency funding proposals whereas the House Dems are pushing for a major relief bill that is far more comprehensive.  Much will depend on whether the House Dems continue to stick to their guns about not wanting to engage in a piecemeal approach to a new emergency relief package.

Senate appropriators release fiscal 2021 spending bills
By Caitlin Emma, Politico
11/10/2020 11:03 AM EST

Senate appropriators released a slate of spending bills on Tuesday that kick off negotiations with the House on a trillion dollar-plus funding deal to ward off a government shutdown next month.

Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) unveiled the text of 12 measures that plot out his committee’s vision for federal funding in fiscal 2021, which began on Oct. 1 and runs through September of next year.

The main event: The committee released overall totals for each bill — known as 302(b)s — including emergency funding, changes in mandatory spending and a special pot of overseas war funds.

Senate appropriators also released the text of each bill, committee reports and a summary of each measure.

— Agriculture-FDA, $23.3 billion
Committee summary

— Commerce-Justice-Science, $75.5 billion
Committee summary

— Defense, $696 billion
Committee summary

— Energy-Water, $51.8 billion
Committee summary

— Financial Services, $24.1 billion
Committee summary

— Homeland Security, $52.6 billion
Committee summary

— Interior-Environment, $35.8 billion
Committee summary

— Labor-HHS-Education, $195.1 billion
Committee summary

— Legislative Branch, $5.3 billion
Committee summary

— Military Construction-VA, $100.6 billion
Committee summary

— State-Foreign Operations, $55.2 billion
Committee summary

— Transportation-HUD, $74.8 billion
Committee summary

Prospects for a bipartisan deal: House Democrats — who already passed most of their appropriations bills in two tranches over the summer — will now have to settle their differences with Senate Republicans over each measure in order to reach agreement on a larger package that boosts federal budgets through the end of the fiscal year and averts a government shutdown in mid-December.

The Senate doesn’t expect to mark up any spending bills. Rather, House and Senate appropriators will likely launch right into bicameral negotiations on a massive funding package.

“House appropriators are reviewing the Senate’s bills right now and are prepared to quickly begin bipartisan negotiations,“ House Appropriations Committee spokesperson Evan Hollander said in a statement. “There is strong momentum to complete the fiscal year 2021 appropriations process this year, and Chairwoman [Nita] Lowey will do everything she can to make that happen.”

“We can work out a deal,” Shelby told reporters on Monday night. “[House Speaker Nancy Pelosi] has told me she wants to get it out of the way and move onto the next Congress. We don’t want to shut any government down.”

In a statement on Tuesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said “many of the bills were the result of bipartisan work, and I appreciate those areas where we were able to come to agreement. However, there are significant issues that we will want to address in negotiations with the House.

“Leahy said that includes the addition of coronavirus relief, greater overall funding for the Labor-HHS-Education measure, more money for environmental and protection programs, no funding for the president’s border wall, less funding for immigration detention and more.

Key context: Congress passed a continuing resolution in September, H.R. 8337 (116), that keeps the government open until Dec. 11. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Pelosi and top appropriators have all said they want to pass an omnibus — or a massive funding package that combines all 12 appropriations bills — rather than another stopgap that extends current funding levels to a later date next year.

Will fiscal stimulus hitch a ride? In addition to government funding, congressional leaders are eyeing additional coronavirus relief by the end of the year. McConnell said Monday that he hopes Congress can pass “targeted pandemic relief” during the lame duck, while Democrats are still insisting on a larger package.

“In any event, we will need to fund the government, reach agreement with the House on the National Defense Authorization and confirm more thoroughly qualified nominees,” he said on the Senate floor.

When asked about the possibility of rolling more fiscal stimulus into a government funding deal, Shelby said Monday, “Might not be a bad idea if we can agree on the stimulus.”

Legislating in a lame duck: It’s unclear how much progress lawmakers will make during a lame duck session of Congress, as congressional leaders also look to resolve stalled fiscal stimulus talks, navigate a presidential transition and pour their energy into two Senate runoff races in Georgia that will decide party control of the upper chamber next year.

Bipartisan, bicameral agreement on all 12 bills shouldn’t be too big of a lift, because fiscal 2021 budget caps don’t allow for huge increases in spending.

Defense funding this fiscal year is capped at $740.5 billion, while overall funding for non-defense programs is capped at $634.5 billion. Both levels received about a $2.5 billion increase over the previous fiscal year.

John Bresnahan contributed to this report.