The House and Senate have returned to Washington after the July 4 recess with relatively few legislative days to pass FY 2015 funding bills before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1. After a surprisingly promising start to this year’s appropriations process with senior congressional leaders predicting that at least some of the twelve bills would be enacted to avoid stop-gap funding legislation, the outlook is now highly uncertain.
It will not be surprising if short-term funding legislation and multi-bill appropriation packages will be employed in coming months. Enactment of only the least controversial of the twelve “must pass” appropriations bills is typically accomplished before the start of the fiscal year. The process is more troubled in an election year when Members are eager to avoid votes on controversial legislation and to spend more time away from Washington meeting voters. That is even more so this year when party control of the Senate is in question. Between now and October 1 the House is scheduled to be in session for 26 days and the Senate for 36 days.
Previous difficulties in the passage of appropriations bills have centered on how much money each chamber wanted to spend. That controversy was resolved when Congress and the Obama Administration settled on $1.014 trillion for FY 2015. With this figure in hand, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) made confident predictions that the appropriations process this year would be different.
The House has made progress on the FY 2015 appropriations bills. The Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill is scheduled to go before the full House tomorrow, and after its expected passage six of the twelve bills will have passed the House. Ten of the twelve appropriations bills have been approved by the full House Appropriations Committee.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved seven of the FY 2015 funding bills but none have come to the floor. Four of the remaining bills are, in Mikulski’s words, the “ugly stepsisters.” These bills provide funding for the Department of Energy, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Geological Survey, and the Department of Education. In some instances, disagreements revolve around traditional “hot button” issues such as abortion and health care insurance. New in this year’s appropriations cycle are Republican attempts to amend the bills to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing new emission controls on existing power plants. It is predicted that these amendments would win passage when Democratic senators from coal states join Republican senators in voting for these amendments. Disagreements about the number of votes needed to pass amendments have stopped the Senate bills from moving forward.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had previously scheduled two weeks of Senate floor time for the consideration of FY 2015 appropriations bills. It remains to be seen if any of the Senate bills will move forward.