Congress left many issues undone for the 16-days scheduled in the legislative calendar after the 2018 midterm elections, known as the lame duck session of Congress. Below are some of those remaining issues.
FY 2019 Appropriations Bill
Congress enacted 5 (of the total 12) annual FY 2019 appropriations bills prior to the beginning of the federal fiscal year on October 1, 2018. That is a feat in modern legislative times. But, alas 7 appropriations bills languish in the legislative process and Congress must complete or extend the annual funding for the following departments and independent agencies:
- Agriculture, FDA
- Interior and Environment
- Commerce, Justice, Science
- Transportation, Housing and Urban Development
- Department of State
- Department of Homeland Security
- Financial Services and General Government.
On September 28, 2018, the President signed into law the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2019 (CR) (P.L. 115-245, Division C). The CR provisions continue funding for these agencies (above) at a prorated 2018 funding level through December 7, 2018.
Congressional appropriators working in a bicameral conference committee are combining 4 of the remaining 7 appropriations bills namely, Agriculture-FDA, Interior & Environment, Transportation & Housing Urban Development and Financial Services, into a “Minibus” that should be ready for passage on the floor of the House and Senate in the first few days of Congress’ return. Minibuses are a way for Congress to move bills quickly with limited floor time.
The remaining 3 appropriations bills contain controversial measures of which their outcome may be determined by the results of the midterm elections. Provisions in the FY 2019 appropriations bills passed by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees for the Department of Homeland Security contain different levels of funding for a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The House provides $5 billion that could help erect a wall for up to 200 miles. The Senate provided $.6 billion to supplement reinforcing existing barriers.
The Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) FY 2019 Appropriations Bill and Department of State Appropriations Bill contain provisions that touch on immigration policies. Earlier this year discussions centered on a potential deal where Republicans would deliver on border wall funding and Democrats would achieve legal protections for young undocumented immigrants (aka Dreamers), that face potential deportation considering the Trump Administration ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Another deal could be in the making.
There is also language providing annual funding for three trade-related agencies; about $440 million for the International Trade Administration (ITA), $88 million for the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC), and $63 million for the office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). Some in Congress are not confident in the Trump Administration’s policies on erecting trade tariffs due to the negative impacts on their constituents from retaliatory trade actions taken against the U.S.
Throughout history farm bills have been reauthorized by Congress every 5-years. Since 1995 however, it has taken Congress 6 years to adopt the major food and farm policy for the U.S. It is difficult to reach consensus on a farm bill for numerous reasons, but the two most prominent are regional differences and funding. This farm bill is no exception.
Both chambers of Congress adopted a version of a farm bill and a Conference Committee was selected in early August. The full Conference Committee has met one time, but the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have been continually negotiating. The four negotiators include Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member of the US House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson (D-MN) – all from Midwestern states. The lone negotiator from the south is Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Mike Conaway (R-TX).
Released in July 2018by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the cost of the farm bill estimate is $867.2 billion over a ten-year period (FY 2019-2028) . But, when CBO began breaking down the cost differences between the House and Senate versions of the farm bill, it became increasingly clear there were multiple and large policy differences that exist.
CBO Score (FY 2019-28, Mil $)
Farm Bill Title House Senate
Commodities + $ 284 – $ 408
Conservation – $ 795 $ 0
Nutrition – $ 1,426 +$ 94
Energy – $ 517 + $ 375
Crop Insurance – $ 161 – $ 2
TOTAL – $1,785 $ 0
Although significant issues remain on multiple issues, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) assessed that the negotiators have made progress on the Farm Bill.
Confirm Presidential Appointees
According to the Office of Personnel and Management (OPM), there are 1,242 presidential appointees which must be approved by the U.S. Senate. These include: cabinet secretaries, agency directors, and ambassadors.
After 22 months in office President Trump has nominated a total of 684 appointees. The U.S. Senate has confirmed just over 350 nominees.
According to the Congressional Research Service, “Nominations that are pending when the Senate adjourns sine die or recesses for more than 30 days are returned to the President unless the Senate, by unanimous consent, waives the rule requiring their return (Senate Rule XXXI, clause 6). If a nomination is returned, and the President still desires Senate consideration, he must submit a new nomination to the Senate.”
Bipartisan Bicameral Committee on the Budget
The Budget Bipartisan and Bicameral Committee was established by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. It created a select committee comprised of 16 members, equally divided between both sides in the House and Senate. This bipartisan, bicameral panel is tasked with identifying and recommending reforms to the budget and appropriations process.
This Committee has been meeting since early this year and it is required to report their findings by the end of November.
One of the questions that may be resolved by the Bicameral Committee on the Budget is: should Congress return to the practice of congressional directed spending, or “earmarking” funds for projects in their respective districts. In January 2011 Congress (FY2010) identified 11,320 earmarks with a total value of $32.0 billion. To give you some idea, of the 11,320 earmarks in FY2010, all of them were in 5 (of the total 12) annual appropriations bills. In total earmarks were only 2.45 % of the total discretionary budget of $1.306 trillion in FY 2010.
Other ideas surfacing include ways to reduce the rate at which the federal government spends for a short, 5-year window. Known as the “penny plan,” for every dollar the federal government spent in FY 2018, it would spend one penny less for the next five years. After five years spending at this level, funding would then be allowed to grow at one percent annually. The plan would reduce spending by a total $405 Billion in FY 2019 and by $13.35 Trillion over 10 years relative to baseline.
Peaceful Transfer of Power
Amidst all these policy issues that need to be resolved, each political party will be electing their leaders for the 116th Congress at the end of November. Newly elected Members of Congress will be finding their new offices, participating in ethics training, and (quickly) hiring quality staff.