Funding bills for 2015 still moving — and stopping

History shows separate passage of appropriations bills is less likely in election years.

The House and Senate are encountering familiar roadblocks in attempting to pass the twelve bills that together fund the discretionary portion of the federal government (that’s everything except entitlements, e.g., social security and medicare, and interest on the debt). A “minibus” bill, H.R. 4660, that included three separate appropriations bills (Commerce-Justice-Science; Agriculture-Rural Development-Food & Drug Administration; and Transportation-Housing & Urban Development), was debated on the Senate floor but pulled on June 12 before votes were called. The reason given was that the Senate Democratic leadership was unable to reach agreement with Republicans over the number and nature of amendments. The three bills in the minibus are normally considered three of the easier bills to pass. 

APA closely follows the Commerce-Justice-Science bill as it funds the National Science Foundation and is sometimes the focus of negative amendments. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., offered an amendment last year to deny federal funding for NSF’s political science research portfolio. Coburn has filed a similar amendment this year. Since the Senate has suspended action on the bill, the fate of that amendment is unclear.

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., is said to be considering other combinations of bills to bring to the Senate floor. The Military Construction-Veterans Administration bill would likely attract bipartisan cooperation on procedure and nature of amendments. Any floor action, though, would likely wait until after a House-Senate conference committee completes work on emergency VA health care legislation (H.R. 3230), and negotiations on that may extend through the summer months. 

According to the Concord Coalition, in the first year of a two-year congressional session, Congress averages twice as many appropriations bills passed on time as in the second year of the session. The second year of the session is the election year, and the jockeying for electoral advantage shows itself in the number and types of amendments offered on spending bills.  

As of June 25, the House had passed six of the 12 bills — those funding the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Homeland Security, Transportation, and the Military Construction and Financial Services bills. None have yet passed in the Senate. 

Stay tuned to the Budget Blog for any updates on the appropriations bills!