Update From Washington, D.C.
April 11, 2019
House Adjourns Until End of April; Budget Package Fails to Advance
The House wrapped up its legislative business early this week as the chamber’s Democrats left Washington, D.C. on Wednesday for their annual Issues Conference in Leesburg, VA. The three-day session will feature presentations from a number of outside speakers and will provide Democrats with an opportunity to discuss their top legislative priorities for 2019, including health care and infrastructure. For their part, House Republicans have yet to reschedule their annual retreat, which was postponed earlier this year due to the government shutdown.
In budget news, House Democratic leaders were forced to shelve legislation (HR 2021) designed to increase the Budget Control Act’s (BCA) spending caps after two separate factions of their caucus demanded various changes to the bill. For their part, progressives insisted that the legislation authorize an additional $33 billion in funding for social programs, while centrist members decried the bill’s lack of offsetting cuts in mandatory entitlements. In the end, Democratic leaders did not have the necessary votes to advance the measure.
All told, HR 2021 would authorize $576 billion in defense spending and $542 billion in non-defense spending for the fiscal year that begins October 1, or tens of billions of dollars more than what is currently permitted under the BCA. The $33 billion sought by House progressives would essentially ensure that Congress spends equal amounts on both budget categories. If Congress fails to take action to amend the BCA, defense programs will be cut by $71 billion (11 percent) and non-defense spending will be reduced by $55 billion (9.2 percent).
In the absence of an overarching budget roadmap, the House Appropriations Committee is nevertheless planning to forge ahead with individual funding bills that adhere to the combined topline spending number embodied in HR 2021. That means House appropriators will divvy up approximately $1.3 trillion among the 12 subcommittees that are charged with crafting the fiscal year 2020 appropriations measures.
In other developments this week, the House approved legislation (HR 1644) that would restore Obama-era net neutrality rules. The bill, known as the Save the Internet Act, passed on a 232-190 vote, with only one Republican voting in favor of the legislation.
HR 1644 would codify consumer protections that existed prior to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) December 2017 repeal of net neutrality rules. Under the bill, broadband-access providers would be prohibited from blocking or slowing internet content or offering select apps and services access to so-called “fast lanes.” The legislation faces dim prospects in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has proclaimed the measure “dead on arrival.”
Finally, the Republican-controlled Senate largely focused on advancing a slew of Trump administration nominees this week. At press time, the chamber was expected to vote to confirm President Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of the Interior, David Bernhardt.
At the committee level, the Senate Appropriations Committee continued its slate of hearings on the administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget request. Among others, Senate appropriators received testimony from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, and Attorney General William Barr.