CHN: Senate Spending Panel Passes Labor-HHS-Education Bill, but House Action is Postponed Again
While there was some movement over the last two weeks on the FY19 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-H) appropriations bills, it’s not as much as was expected. While the Senate Appropriations Committee passed (30-1) its bipartisan version of the largest nondefense spending bill on June 28, the House Appropriations Committee postponed taking up its version of the bill for the second time in two weeks.
The $179.3 billion Senate bill would approve roughly $2.2 billion more than FY18 levels, with the National Institutes of Health getting a $2 billion (5.4 percent) bump. Overall, the Department of Labor would be funded at $12.1 billion, a $92 million decrease compared to FY18; the Department of Education would get a $541 million increase to $71.4 billion; and the Department of Health and Human Services would receive a $2.3 billion increase to $90.1 billion. In the Labor Department, apprenticeship programs would receive a $15 million increase, Job Corps would get a $15 million bump, and the Veterans Employment Training (VETS) Program would gain $5 million above FY18 levels. In education, the maximum Pell grant would be boosted by $100. TRIO programs that provide services to students from disadvantaged backgrounds and first generation college students to help them enter and complete college and postgraduate education would be level funded. IDEA special education grants to states would receive a $125 million increase. As noted above, most of the increase to the Department of Health and Human Services goes to the NIH, but funds for fighting opioids would increase by $145 million, and Head Start would get a $250 million increase. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) would get a $50 million increase. The Child Care and Development Block Grant would be flat funded (maintaining the large $2.37 billion increase that occurred this year). Unlike the House bill, the Senate bill does not include new language restricting HHS’s authority to administer or enforce the Affordable Care Act. Summaries of the bill are available from the majority and the minority. While advocates are generally pleased with the bill and its lack of partisan policy changes known as riders, they contend that the overall spending level for the three departments should be higher given the size and importance of the departments.
The House version of the bill is much more contentious, containing partisan policy changes and defunding the Affordable Care Act. Republicans said the delay in action on the bill was due to scheduling conflicts, but senior Democrats on the committee believe it was done to avoid confrontation over the Trump Administration’s family separation and detention policies; the Office of Refugee Resettlement is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said in a joint statement, “The sole purpose of the cancellation is to prevent Democrats from offering amendments that would protect migrant children and keep families together.” For more information on what’s in the House Labor-H bill, see the June 19 Human Needs Report.
In other appropriations news, the Senate passed (86-5) its first group of FY19 spending bills, or “minibus,” on June 25. The minibus combined three of the 12 required spending bills – Energy and Water, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and the Legislative Branch. The House previously passed its version of the same three bills mainly along party lines. The two packages will now head to a House-Senate conference committee where members will attempt to work out the differences, including the topline spending levels. Some in Congress are pushing for conference negotiations on topline spending allocations for each of the 12 appropriations bills, known as 302(b) allocations, which differ in the House and Senate and which advocates think are too low for the bills that cover important human needs programs. If the current minibus or other appropriations bills pass before these funding decisions are made, there is a risk that early bills will spend too much, forcing further cuts in bills like Labor-HHS-Ed that often are taken up later. Some in Congress have been considering pairing the Labor-H bill with the Department of Defense appropriations bill and moving them together on the House and Senate floors. These two bills are typically the top priorities of Democrats and Republicans, respectively. Despite the forward motion of the spending bills, many are already expecting that a stopgap spending bill will be needed to keep the government open from the time the new fiscal year begins on October 1 through sometime after the November elections.
In addition, the House Budget Committee passed (21-13, along party lines) its FY19 budget resolution on June 21. Committee Chairman Steve Womack’s (R-AR) budget resolution calls for $302 billion in spending cuts through special rules known as reconciliation instructions. Using the reconciliation process allows measures with a budgetary impact (like extending or making permanent the individual tax cuts in the 2017 tax bill, cutting entitlement programs, or a repeal of much of the Affordable Care Act) to be passed in the Senate with only a simple majority instead of the usual 60-vote threshold required in that chamber. However, this only holds true if the Senate also passes a FY19 budget and House and Senate agree on a final version. Most reports are that the Senate is highly unlikely to complete action on a budget resolution. Democrats offered 28 amendments to the budget resolution; all were rejected.