June 20, 2014
On Thursday, June 19, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) postponed consideration of the Senate’s three-part spending package for Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development for fiscal year 2015. The Senate began consideration of the FY 2015 appropriations package on Tuesday, and was scheduled to begin to voting on amendments on Thursday. However, Majority Leader Reid pulled the package from the Senate floor after Senate Republicans rejected his proposal to establish a 60-vote threshold in order to pass each amendment.
Recall that the House also delayed consideration of its own FY 2015 Agriculture Appropriations bill, following the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) in his primary race.
The House may resume consideration of its appropriations bill at some point after the July 4 recess, which ends on July 8. The Senate may or may not bring its bill back to the floor next week. At this time, little is certain about the process or the prospects for actually approving a final bill.
Dozens of filed amendments have yet to be voted upon in both the House and Senate. Senate leaders will continue to negotiate on the rules under which amendments will be considered, and it is our hope that they will come to an agreement in short order.
One of the biggest roadblocks to completing work on the appropriations bills is the increasing common habit of loading up the spending bills with extraneous policy provisions, known as riders. This bad habit tends to become even worse during election years, when there is tremendous interest in forcing members in close election contests to take votes on hot button issues, even if they are not germane to the spending bill at hand.
The agriculture spending bill is not immune to the policy rider syndrome. This year’s pending House bill already contains a provision to reverse the 2010 Child Nutrition bill on the issue of nutrition standards for school feeding programs and to reverse the 2008 Farm Bill on the issue of open competition and fair contracts in poultry and livestock markets. Additional riders to the agriculture bill are expected during floor debate, if and when it resumes.
As the number of legislative days left before the November elections slip by, it will become extremely difficult for Congress to finalize FY 2015 appropriations bills, or some package of appropriations bills, prior to recessing for the month of October. It is still possible though, and we strongly encourage Congress to get the job done and done on time.
But the lack of progress this week does not bode well. If the bills are not finished in time for the start of the new fiscal year on October 1, there could still be action in the post-election lame duck session on an omnibus bill to fund the government. The far worse, but potentially more likely, alternative is that Congress will simply continue current funding levels on autopilot under what is known as a “continuing resolution.”
We will continue to provide regular updates as we learn more about timing in both the House and the Senate.