As Senate Republicans Huddle, House Democrats Move Forward on FY 2020 Discretionary Spending Bills

House Maintains Modest Increases in all 12 Appropriations Bills Above FY 2019 Levels

On June 11 officials from the White House & Office of Management and Budget will meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) & Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) to chart a path forward on the FY 2020 appropriations bills that annually fund federal government departments and agencies. A fiscal standoff between the political parties is preventing progress on completion of the annual spending bills. Even without an agreed-upon top-number for all federal spending for FY 2020, House Democrats are moving forward on their versions of 12 federal spending bills that include modest increases for all departments and agencies.

At a minimum what’s at stake from the outcome of these discussions is about $125 billion in the total level of annual discretionary spending. Last year’s (FY 2019) level was $1.244 trillion. If a path forward cannot be agreed upon the total level of spending for FY 2020 would drop to $1.119 trillion, an amount agreed upon in the Balanced Budget Act of 2011.

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While Republicans are huddling on a strategy for the FY 2020 appropriations bills , House Democrats are readying an appropriations bill, H.R. 2740, for floor action this week that combines five (of the twelve) annual appropriations bills (known as a “mini-bus”) including; Labor-Health and Human Services-Education, Legislative Branch, Defense, State-Foreign Operations, and Energy and Water Development. The total of the mini-bus appropriations bills is nearly $1 trillion. The final vote on this package will not likely occur until the week of June 17.

The House Rules Committee is also preparing rules for floor debate on a second, five-bill mini-bus appropriations bill, H.R. 3055, containing annual federal spending for the departments of Commerce, Justice, NASA, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration, Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development.

Will Controversies in FY 2020 Appropriations Cause Another Government Shutdown?

The beginning of the federal fiscal year is October 1. But this date has been meaningless to Congress for decades no matter which political party controls the House and Senate. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS) FY 1997 is the most recent fiscal year that all regular appropriations bills were enacted before the start of the fiscal year. In fact, in the last 43 fiscal years (FY 1977-2019) Congress has had to rely on continuing resolutions (CR) that extend the current-year level of funding into the subsequent fiscal year, in all but three of those years.

Given the controversies that surround the FY 2020 appropriations bills, it is highly likely FY 2020 will be the 44th fiscal year added to the list of years where a CR is needed.

House Democrats have a goal to finish all appropriations bills by the end of June. To expedite passage, bundling appropriations bills into “mini-buses” is a practice that both political parties have exercised for years. The Democrats in the House are planning two, five-bill mini-buses that combine some more favorable appropriations bills with those that may not be so favorable to members of Congress. That means 10 of the total 12 appropriations bills could be passed in the House of Representatives by June 21. The remaining two appropriations bills, Homeland Security and Financial Services & General Government were adopted by the House Appropriations Committee today and will be ready for House floor action the week of June 24.

While in majority control of the U.S. Senate Republicans will need seven Democrats to attain the required 60-vote threshold needed to pass all 12 appropriations bills. OMB, the White House and some Republicans would like to show some austerity during the appropriations process. But, that seems unlikely as Senate Democrats will not support cuts to discretionary spending levels. During their huddle on Tuesday Republicans must consider the political landscape in 2020. Without Democratic support of appropriations bills in the U.S. Senate the threat of another government shutdown elevates. And, with Republicans defending 22 of 34 Senate seats up for re-election in 2020 Republicans can ill-afford another government shutdown.

Adopting continuing resolutions well into FY 2020 is the likely outcome for the appropriations process this year. For Democrats, there are no cuts in discretionary spending. For Republicans, it continues government funding at more austere levels, albeit the previous FY 2019 level.

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