Congress Returns for Fall Session; Trump Administration Hosts State Leadership Day
September 12, 2019
Lawmakers returned to Washington, D.C. this week following an extended August recess to tackle a growing list of priorities, the most pressing of which is completing action on the fiscal year 2020 appropriations process. Prior to departing for their summer break, House and Senate lawmakers voted to approve a new two-year budget deal (HR 3877). The legislation, which was signed into law by President Trump on August 2, suspends the debt ceiling through July 31, 2021 and increases the spending caps put in place by the Budget Control Act (BCA; PL 112-25).
Under the new law, domestic discretionary spending is set to rise by roughly 4.5 percent in FY 2020 (increasing from $605 billion in the current fiscal year to $632 billion). Absent any adjustments to the BCA’s spending limitations, both nondefense and defense programs would have been subject to automatic cuts, known as sequestration, totaling roughly 10 percent beginning this January.
It should be noted that the new budgetary framework sets the stage for the appropriations process to advance in earnest. However, with the October 1 start of the new fiscal year less than a month away – and with none of the 12 annual appropriations bills finalized by Congress – party leaders have all but conceded that a Continuing Resolution (CR) will be necessary. In fact, House Democrats will vote next week on a stopgap spending bill that would extend government funding through November 21.
While at this point it appears as though the CR will be largely free of so-called poison pill riders, Democrats have warned Republicans that they will oppose any language that would allow the Trump administration to use border fence funds outside of the Rio Grande Valley Sector. Under current law, the administration has been allowed to fund limited portions of a border wall, though the White House is looking to expand that authority.
With the aforementioned two-year budget deal in place, the Senate Appropriations Committee this week planned to consider four separate FY 2020 funding bills, including those covering Defense; Labor-Health and Human Services (Labor-HHS); Energy and Water Development; and, State-Foreign Operations. However, the panel has since postponed votes on the Labor-HHS and State-Foreign Operations measures amid disagreements over abortion-related amendments. While the bills covering Defense and Energy and Water will likely pass, the early discord signals that the budget process will continue to be contentious.
In other developments, the House this week approved a series of bills that would ban offshore oil and gas drilling. One measure (HR 1146) – sponsored by Congressman Jared Huffman (D-CA) – would bar drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, while another (HR 1941) would permanently block efforts by the Trump administration to expand offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific regions of the Outer Continental Shelf. The third measure (HR 205) would permanently extend a moratorium on energy leasing in the Gulf of Mexico. Votes on all three measures fell largely along party lines, a clear signal that they will be dead on arrival in the GOP-led Senate.
In addition, the House approved a number of less controversial bills, including legislation (HR 3620) designed to preserve affordable rural housing. Specifically, HR 3620 would authorize $200 million each year for the Multi-Family Housing Preservation and Revitalization (MPR) program, which allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to restructure and preserve loans for low-income families and farm workers. Another measure (HR 1768) that was approved with bipartisan support would reauthorize the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Diesel Emissions Reduction Program. The program, which provides grants and rebates to upgrade older diesel equipment, has proven to be effective at reducing harmful emissions.
Following today’s votes, House Republicans will head to Baltimore for their delayed annual policy retreat. The gathering, which is typically held earlier in the year, will run from Thursday afternoon through Saturday morning. The retreat is an opportunity for GOP lawmakers to discuss a range of policy issues, as well as discuss a campaign strategy heading into the 2020 election season. President Trump will headline the event with a speech Thursday night, and Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to address the conference on Friday.
Trump Administration Hosts State Leadership Day with California County Officials
This afternoon, the Trump administration will host local officials from California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah as part of its ongoing State Leadership Conference series. The event, organized by the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, will provide attendees with the opportunity to interact with key members of the Trump administration on a range of pertinent issues to county government. Participating in the conference are more than 60 county and city officials from California, including several members of CSAC’s elected leadership team and executive staff.
The half-day event will feature presentations by several senior administration officials, highlighted by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. The group also is scheduled to hear from top officials at EPA, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. However, a large portion of the day will be reserved for a panel discussion on two key issues facing communities in the West, namely federal land management and community revitalization.
With regard to land management, the invited participants will engage with officials from USDA and the Department of the Interior for a discussion on shared stewardship. A second panel later in the day will focus on opportunities to empower local communities and will feature presentations from administration officials representing the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Office of American Innovation.