On the Senate floor on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch (R-KY) announced that he would file cloture on motions to proceed to two FY20 spending bills, setting up votes for next week. The first vote will be on a package of domestic funding bill. While the contents of that package are still being negotiated, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) said that measure could include three bills and specifically mentioned the Agriculture and Transportation-HUD bills. McConnell said that if the Senate can get bipartisan support to take up that bill, they will stay on it until they complete it. Afterward, they will turn to a second package that will include the FY20 Defense, Labor HHS Education, State Foreign Operations, and Energy & Water appropriations bills.
The only bill not yet released by the Senate is the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill. The subcommittee chairman, John Boozman (R-AR), said the bill could be introduced this week or next. He indicated that it would include $3.6B to fund military construction projects the President wanted to delay in order to fund the border wall.
The federal government is currently funded through November 21 under a continuing resolution (CR). They need to pass all 12 annual spending bills or another CR before then to avoid a shutdown. The President has indicated that he is not interested in signing other domestic spending bills until he has an agreement on funding for his border wall. He could force another shutdown, or use his executive authority to transfer funds from other accounts using a national emergency declaration.
As it stands now, the House has passed 10 of its 12 Fiscal Year 2020 (“FY20”) spending bills, and the remaining two bills were passed out of the Appropriations Committee. On the Senate side, the Appropriations Committee has passed 10 of its 12 FY20 bills, and those bills are now awaiting action by the full Senate. House and Senate Appropriations Committee staff have been meeting over the October recess to work out the differences between their FY20 spending bills. Ultimately, differences between the House and Senate bills must be resolved before they can go to the president for signature. In the meantime, the federal government is currently operating under a continuing resolution that goes through November 21.
One of the biggest issues for Senate appropriators to work out when they return next week is determining what is a “poison pill.” The bipartisan budget deal Congress agreed to in July included an agreement banning “poison pill” policy riders on the FY20 and FY21 spending bills. The annual spending bills usually include some contentious riders that trigger partisan clashes and slow down the process. Past poison pill riders have been on issues such as abortion, gun control, and environmental regulations. The ban on riders was intended to speed up the appropriations process. However, there isn’t agreement on what constitutes a poison pill. Democrats on the committee wanted to offer an amendment to reverse the Mexico City Policy in the FY20 State Foreign Operations bill when it was considered in committee. They argued that the amendment long had bipartisan support and should have been permitted. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has defined a poison pill as anything that is not in existing law. A resolution may be needed to get the spending bills moving again in the Senate.