Legislative Activity

Senate Appropriations Process Stalls as Democrats Look to Force a Budget Deal

The Senate appropriations process has stalled, and it is unclear how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will proceed this week. Last Thursday, Senate Democrats followed through with their announced strategy to stop appropriations bills from reaching the Senate floor by blocking the $567 billion Defense Appropriations Bill, ignoring Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn’s (R-TX) warning that voting against the bill would be “political suicide.” Majority Leader McConnell chose to advance the Defense Appropriations Bill first to put pressure on Senate Democrats, as Defense spending typically enjoys broad bipartisan support. Republicans have already started their messaging efforts to paint Democrats as obstructionists who “voted against the troops.”

The Republican’s appropriations strategy for the coming weeks is not yet clear, but Senate Appropriations Committee member Roy Blunt (R-MO) encouraged Majority Leader McConnell to continue bringing appropriations bills to the floor to test the Democrats’ resolve. Senate Democratic Leadership again called on Republicans to “immediately schedule bipartisan budget negotiations,” and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), who negotiated the last budget deal in 2013, said the sequester was meant to force Congress to “find smarter savings,” and was not intended to become final budget numbers.

The current appropriations impasse is further complicated by the fact that each faction believes, or at least publicly states, that they have the political upper-hand. President Obama continues to issue veto threats for any appropriations bills that follow the sequester’s spending caps or the Republicans’ budget, and there are few indications he would not follow through with those threats as he heads into his final year-and-a-half in office. Senate Democrats have already tried to tie any potential government shut-down to Republicans, and intend to continue their strategy of blocking all appropriations bills to increase pressure for a budget deal. Finally, Republicans have already forced Democrats to vote against a popular spending bill, and have shown little desire to enter into budget negotiations as they argue that Democrats will take any political fallout of a potential shut-down.

What a Budget Deal Might Look Like

If Democrats succeed in forcing Republicans to negotiate a budget deal, which would likely be several months from now, it is unclear what the final deal would include. Democrats have pointed to President Obama’s budget as a framework for a deal, which would pay for additional spending with mandatory spending cuts, revenue increases, and immigration reform. However, House Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) has called revenue increases a “non-starter.” The 2013 budget deal used a mixture of mandatory spending cuts and non-tax revenue increases to provide an additional $63.2 billion in discretionary spending over two years, split equally between defense and non-defense spending, and $23 billion in deficit reduction.

It is also unclear who would negotiate a budget deal, since Senator Murray and Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), who negotiated the 2013 budget agreement, no longer chair the budget committees in the Senate and the House. Another concern is the impending need to raise the debt ceiling, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will be reached in October or November and could further complicate any budget deal.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, June 23: The Senate Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee will hold a hearing to review information technology spending and data security at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
  • Tuesday, June 23: The Senate Budget Committee will hold a joint hearing with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee titled “Measuring the True Cost of Regulations: Lessons from Great Britain and Canada in Implementing Regulatory Reform.”

FY 2016 Appropriations Committee/Subcommittee Markup Hearings

  • Tuesday, June 23: The Senate Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee will hold a markup of the FY 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill.
  • Tuesday, June 23: The Senate Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee will hold a markup of the FY 2016 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Bill.
  • Wednesday, June 24: The House Appropriations Committee will hold a markup of the FY 2016 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Bill.