Capitol Correspondence - 05.26.20

Bigger Budget Picture: Congress Struggling to Keep Up with Fiscal Year 2021 Timelines

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Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget conversations, including those around funding Medicaid, are in preliminary stages right now and are likely to catapult to the foreground come fall when Congress traditionally tackles the issue in earnest. As such, we are sharing this reporting by Politico Pro so that our members can stay informed and prepare for how they’ll advocate during the process.

“The timeline for passing a dozen spending bills for the coming fiscal year is slipping as the coronavirus consumes the legislative agenda and complicates committee work on Capitol Hill.

House and Senate appropriators are missing their original targets to mark up and pass spending bills. But they‘re still confident about getting their work done — loath to lose out on the defense and nondefense funding hikes secured by last summer’s budget caps deal. They’re also anxious to provide agencies with a sense of fiscal stability as they battle the pandemic. But even without a global public health crisis, the upcoming elections had threatened to sap political will and necessitate passage of a stopgap spending bill to carry Congress through Election Day.

Adding to the challenges is bipartisan interest in moving a popular veterans health fund outside of the budget caps by declaring it ‘emergency’ cash. Both Democrats and Republicans agree that costs for the fund are ballooning, threatening to cannibalize dollars for other veterans’ priorities if appropriators are forced to stick within tight funding limits.

Earlier this year, House Democrats had planned to mark up and pass all 12 appropriations bills by the end of June. But a Democratic aide said markups won’t occur until Congress can agree on another massive infusion of federal coronavirus relief — which Republicans aren’t in a hurry to negotiate.

The ‘top priority’ for the House Appropriations Committee ‘is passage of urgently needed coronavirus relief funds,’ said spokesperson Evan Hollander, who noted significant progress on fiscal 2021 spending bills despite the lack of markups.

‘The Committee will mark up those bills after coronavirus legislation is completed, and we will announce a schedule for markups at a later date,’ he said.

It’s unclear if any of those markups will occur virtually, after the House voted last week to allow proxy voting and remote committee work. House Democrats also passed a $3 trillion coronavirus response package, H.R. 6800 (116), last week, but it’s unlikely to be taken up in the Senate, where GOP leaders have suggested that additional aid could be weeks away.

Meanwhile, Senate appropriators soon hope to reach an agreement on subcommittee allocations, with plans to mark up several bills toward the end of June and the remainder coming after the July Fourth recess. The upper chamber had originally planned to mark up almost all of the bills before the July Fourth recess.


The two-year budget deal signed by Trump last summer, H.R. 3877 (116), cemented $632 billion in nondefense funding this fiscal year, with just a $2.5 billion increase for fiscal 2021, which begins on Oct. 1.

In the coming weeks, House and Senate appropriators must figure out how to divvy up that $634.5 billion, distributing the additional $2.5 billion to domestic programs across the federal government — many of which are expecting at least a slight funding boost. If appropriators want to provide more money for veterans’ health within the caps, it would come at the expense of other domestic programs.


But another health funding proposal that has generated considerable interest will likely have to wait. Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden appeared before the House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee earlier this month and pitched a ‘Health Defense Operations’ fund that would move some federal dollars meant to guard against health threats outside of the budget caps. [See ANCOR’s prior coverage of this topic for more details.]

‘Future health and economic security can best be protected by changing the way we allocate funds to protect us all from health threats,’ Frieden said in his opening remarks. ‘We have seen the limitations that caps and sequestrations cause for discretionary funding. And we have seen that even mandatory funding doesn’t ensure stable support.’

The idea won support from Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the ranking Republican on the panel. But Hollander said the plan would require new legislation from the House Budget Committee to create the pot of money.

‘Creation of an HDO designation is a longer term discussion and, because of time constraints, is unlikely to be included in fiscal year 2021,’ Hollander said.”