FY20 Starts Slowly in House; Transportation-HUD Spending at Rules Next Week

June 14, 2019

The House of Representatives finally started considering general appropriations bills for fiscal year 2020 this week, but there were early snags when a small core of anti-domestic-spending Republicans forced the House to take 70 roll call votes on amendments over an 18-hour period. These delaying tactics may mean that debate on the next bill, which will contain the annual Department of Transportation budget, may be truncated.

Minibus the first. House leaders decided several weeks ago to group the twelve annual appropriations bills into two “minibus” packages of five bills each and then to leave the two most problematic bills (the Financial Services and General Government bill, and the Homeland Security bill) orphaned until later in the year when they could decide what to do with them. The first package was the largest, containing five bills (Labor-HHS-Education, Legislative Branch, Defense, State/Foreign Operations, and Energy and Water).

The Rules Committee demanded the members submit proposed amendments to this package by June 7, and members submitted a total of 556 amendments. Then, leaders decided to jettison the Legislative Branch portion of the minibus package because they didn’t want to deal with amendments relating to pay raises for Members of Congress and their staffs but also didn’t want to deal with having to pass a special rule disallowing such amendments. That took with it the 41 amendments that were proposed to that division of the bill, and knocking $5 billion off of the total spending in the package (which was less than a rounding error).

Of the remaining 515 amendments, at least 30 were withdrawn by their sponsors, and the Rules Committee made 221 in order for House floor consideration, in two packages (one and two). And then the fun began. The House started debating amendments at about 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday June 12, and immediately Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), the freshman who prevented the House from passing the disaster relief appropriations bill by unanimous consent during the recess two weeks ago, started requesting recorded votes on every single amendment instead of letting the non-controversial ones pass or be defeated by voice vote. (Other Republicans later joined him in requesting roll calls on every amendment.)

So the timetable looked like this:

Legislative Day of Wednesday, June 12:

  • 2:30 to 6:00 p.m – House debates amendments.
  • 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. – House conducts 13 consecutive roll call votes on amendments.
  • 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. – House debates more amendments.
  • 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. – House conducts 2 procedural roll call votes and then 29 more roll call votes on amendments.
  • 1:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. – House debates amendments, then adjourns.

Legislative Day of Thursday, June 13:

  • 9:15 a.m. to 11:20 a.m. – House debates amendments.
  • 11:20 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. – House conducts 28 more roll call votes on amendments.
  • 1:45 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. – the Majority Leader and the Minority Whip argue about the House schedule and other things.
  • 2:15 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. – House debates amendments, then adjourns for the week.

(See this article from the Dallas Morning News on how Roy’s tactics went over with his colleagues.)

At this point, the House is done debating the Labor-HHS-Education and State/Foreign Operations divisions of the bill, but has not begun the Defense or Energy and Water divisions. There are still about 108 amendments on those last two divisions of the bill that have not yet been offered, which will take up several days next week. And then the House will move to minibus #2.

Meanwhile, the White House Office of Management and Budget released a Statement of Administration Policy on the first minibus package that lays out in pretty clear terms the dividing line between the Administration and Congressional Democrats on the big spending picture:

The Administration is strongly opposed to the budgetary framework that underlies this and other appropriations bills being considered by the House of Representatives. This framework would raise the discretionary spending caps by more than $350 billion in fiscal years (FY) 2020 and 2021 and does not reflect either a House-passed budget resolution or a bipartisan, bicameral agreement. It would put the Federal Government on track to add nearly $2 trillion to deficits over 10 years, adding significantly to the national debt, which is already more than $22 trillion and rising.

In addition, the House Democrats’ framework continues to adhere to the misguided and unfounded notion that increases to defense spending must be matched or exceeded by increases to non-defense spending.

(The SAP also contains some bill-specific objections, including disappointment that the bill fails to create separate accounts for Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and Inland Waterways Trust Fund spending within the Corps of Engineers, and that the bill fails to extend section 1043 of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, as amended, which authorizes non-Federal implementation of construction of Federal projects.

Minibus the second. The Rules Committee on June 10 announced the second minibus package (bill text here), which consists of five bills (Commerce-Justice-Science, Agriculture/Rural Development, Interior/Environment, Military Construction/Veterans, and Transportation-HUD.

Rules requested that any proposed amendments be submitted by 11 a.m. on June 13, and so far, 511 amendments have been submitted. (We have a list and analysis of all the transportation-related amendments submitted elsewhere in this issue, here.)

The committee has not yet set a date for the meeting on the second minibus, but Majority Leader Hoyer said yesterday that the House will take up the bill next week, which means Rules has to meet first.

The transportation-related amendments submitted (full list here) fall into six basic types:

  • Cutting funding. There really aren’t that many amendments filed that propose to cut funding and not replace it. There are several amendments that would impose across-the-board funding cuts, but those never succeed and we have stopped writing about them. The only amendment to cut specific accounts and lower the overall funding in the bill is an amendment to cut $50 million from Essential Air Service funding
  • Moving funding around. There are a lot of amendments that increase funding for one DOT account and then take an equivalent amount of money away from a different DOT account. (The Secretary’s Salaries and Expenses account is the favorite go-to for offsetting cuts.) There are also a few amendments that move money around between set-asides within an account – some move money to aviation safety or commercial space transportation within FAA Operations and then reduce other set-asides, and some move money to low-no emission buses from other set-asides in the transit general fund formula account.
  • Striking policy provisions. Here we are in a mirror image of the last Congress – then, Republicans included policy provisions in the base bill out of committee in favor of trucking companies and against high-speed rail, and Democrats offered unsuccessful amendments on the floor to strike the provisions. Now, Democrats are including policy provisions in the base bill out of committee against trucking companies and in favor of high-speed rail, and Republicans are forced to offer amendments on the floor to strike those. Amendments have also been filed to strike the big transit general provision (sec. 164) and the provision preventing the Administration from finalizing its CAFE fuel efficiency standard rule (sec. 145).
  • Adding policy provisions. Some amendments filed seek to add new sections expressing new policies. Republicans propose to add new policies requiring California high-speed rail to finish paying the landowners whose land was taken by eminent domain, to suspend the requirement for new project labor agreements, to ban funding for sanctuary cities, or to suspend current regulations on electronic logging devices in trucks. Democrats have proposed to add new policies banning new permits for the transportation of liquefied natural gas by tank car, banning policies that encourage new charter flights, forcing FRA to pay back the credit risk premiums for completed RRIF loans (though where they get the money from is an open question), and preventing air traffic pattern changes at certain airports.
  • Adding legislative history for some kind of set-aside. These amendments are confusing to read. They pick out an appropriation or set-aside in the bill, then add the words (increased by x amount) (decreased by x amount) right after the dollar amount. The net result is not to change any dollar amounts, but the reasoning is that most of the policy directives from the Appropriations Committee are not in the bill text itself but in the explanatory committee report, and those committee reports can’t be amended on the House floor. So members try to get meaningless amendments like this adopted to a certain account or program in order to draw attention to the point in the Congressional Record where the amendments was adopted, at which point the sponsoring member will have talked about whatever program, project or study is important to them.
  • Making a political point. There are two amendments submitted that seem targeted at Transportation Secretary Chao and her recent news coverage – a Blumenauer (D-OR) amendment prohibiting DOT or HUD from establishing any liaison officer to give special treatment to any state, and a Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) amendment reiterating the part of the government ethics code about not using public office for private gain.

If Republicans keep demanding roll call votes on insignificant amendments to minibus #1 and keeping the House in until 4:00 a.m., Rules may not make as large a percentage of the submitted amendments in order on the second minibus as they did on the first. (Unless they can find a way to structure the process to that only Republicans have to stay up after midnight to offer amendments.)

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