Capitol Correspondence - 12.03.19

Big Picture: Understanding the Political Climate as Congress Negotiates the Budget

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Congressional discussions over the Medicaid budget, which funds the majority of disability supports in the United States, will be occurring within a contentious political climate. Below, we share Politico Pro’s breakdown of some of the key political concerns members of Congress will have on their minds as the process unfolds.

“Here are five things to monitor as appropriators rush to finish their work and avoid a repeat of last year’s holiday season shutdown:

Who came out winners on the toplines

House and Senate appropriators say they’re going to keep their bicameral set of spending levels under wraps until all 12 appropriations bills are finalized. But exactly how and where lawmakers compromised on the topline numbers is of intense interest to federal officials, lobbyists and advocates, who are eager to know exactly how much each spending bill was allocated. The answers could spark yet more problems.

For example, both chambers had to work through major discrepancies to nail down a deal, including House Democrats’ desire to provide more money for the Labor-HHS-Education measure than what Senate Republicans had in mind. [ANCOR note: the Labor-HHS-Education bill is what funds the Medicaid program.]

Funding for Trump’s wall, of course

House and Senate spending panels are now negotiating over how to divvy up those toplines among federal departments, programs and priorities — including money for the president’s Southern border barrier, which has been a major sticking point in talks.

Senate Republicans have wanted to give the president $5 billion through the Department of Homeland Security’s budget, while House Democrats have refused to provide any additional cash.

Both chambers have now settled on an overall number for Homeland Security’s budget, but exactly how much to allocate for Trump’s border barrier remains a major unresolved problem. Republicans will likely keep pushing for wall funding, while Democrats will seek to use any DHS budget boost in other ways.

What Trump might ultimately end up with — and whether he’ll accept that amount — remains unclear.

Feuding over the border wall is also gumming up other spending bills besides the Homeland Security measure, thanks to the president’s February order to shift billions of dollars from military construction projects and Pentagon accounts in order to fund the wall project. Expect the dispute to complicate negotiations on the Military Construction-VA and Defense spending measures as Democrats seek to prevent Trump from again diverting cash laid out under those bills.

Jostling for the front of the line

Especially this year, the order in which the spending bills get signed into law is almost as important as how much money is inside for each agency.

Lawmakers and everybody who lobbies for cash remembers that the five-week shutdown that began last December stopped funding for only the parts of the federal government that weren’t covered under the first few spending bills Congress had already cleared. So nobody wants their favorite funding measure to straggle in the passage queue this time around.

For the White House and many GOP congressional leaders, that means the Defense and Homeland Security bills are priorities for swift action. For Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the measure that funds the Department of Energy and water projects is also a chief choice for early resolution. And Democrats don’t want to see major non-defense bills like the Labor-HHS-Education measure linger.

The collision with impeachment

Well into December, House Democrats will have their attention fixed on impeaching President Donald Trump, with little political or legislative bandwidth left for handling the job of funding the government. Then the question of whether Trump should be ousted will consume the Senate, with the trial likely to land in January.

Shelby has been warning for months that impeachment will ‘take a lot of oxygen out of the air’ and ‘make it more difficult’ to wrap up the fiscal 2020 bills.

Special exceptions could pop up

The final text of the continuing resolution passed by Congress last week to keep the government open through Dec. 20 was initially held up over a number of add-ons, like funding for the 2020 census and a fix so that state highway programs can avoid a $7.6 billion cut this summer.”