Federal Relations

Congress Returns to a Packed Three Week Agenda

This week, Congress returns from its week-long July 4th state/district work period (recess) with a long list of things to do before it breaks again for 5 weeks at the end of the month. Foremost on the to-do list is passage of the FY10 supplemental spending bill that contains funding for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and emergency relief operations in Haiti and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as a total of $14.95 billion to save K-12 teacher jobs and sure-up the Pell Grant program in the House version. The addition of $23 billion for education and other domestic discretionary spending in the House bill is certain to complicate the pathforward for the legislation. Fiscally conservative members of both chambers oppose the expansion of the supplemental beyond the wars and disasters, despite the fact that some of the additional domestic spending is paid for by rescissions to unobligated funding made available in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The House and Senate face a very real deadline, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has stated that if a bill is not approved soon the agency will have to begin furloughing civilian employees and withholding pay for active duty military in August -an outcome that is virtually certain to be avoided. As a result, an outcome on the FY10 supplemental spending bill should be a few weeks away if the House intends to break by July 31st as is currently the plan.

The FY11 appropriations process will continue to limp along this week, as House and Senate Appropriations Committees will consider spending bills. Few, if any,  FY11 bills are likely to come to a full vote in either chamber before the August recess.

Other issues for consideration on the Hill in the coming weeks include: Senate reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, which authorizes annual increases for the NSF, DoE Office of Science,  and NIST; final Senate approval of the financial overhaul bill; Senate committee consideration of clean energy legislation; and another attempt in the Senate to extend unemployment benefits. Some of these bills may need to wait for West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin to appoint a temporary replacement for the late Robert Byrd -expected in the coming days. The nation’s governors continue to push for a two quarter extension of the enhanced Federal Medical Assistance Percentage provided under ARRA. However, a path forward has yet to emerge from the Senate. The provision would mean $480 million for the State of Washington.