May 13, 2013

Appropriations, Sequestration, and Immigration

By Christy Gullion

The Senate is in session today at 2:00pm but there will be no votes today. The House will be back in session at noon Tuesday.

Appropriations: The House GOP plans to begin drafting their FY2014 spending bills to adhere to the roughly $967 billion spending cap set by recent budget law, which also reflects the sequester. The Senate Democrats, on the other hand, appear ready to ignore the sequester and instead mark up their FY2014 bills under a $1.058 trillion cap.

The House Appropriations Committee is expected to start the FY2014 process with two relatively non-controversial bills: Military Construction & Veterans Affairs and Defense. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet scheduled any FY2014 markups, but has a full slate of budget hearings planned with administration officials this week.

Sequestration:  The sequester was designed to be so bad that lawmakers would never allow it to happen. But it did happen and now many members of Congress are looking to protect their favorite federal programs from some or all of the effects of sequestration. After easing some pain for the FAA a couple of weeks ago, the shortlist for the next round of possible sequester saves includes cancer patients, medical researchers, hungry seniors, poor people, and pre-schoolers.

There are already more than a dozen pieces of stand-alone legislation introduced to address agencies, programs and accounts hit by sequestration. Whether any one proposal has a shot at becoming law requires a confluence of events. It needs bipartisan support and at least some semblance of a spending offset to cover the costs. And public outcry from the Americans across the country helps as well.

Here’s a small sample of other sequester fixes also waiting in the wings: Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) would exempt the NIH; Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) would ensure that civilian Pentagon employees who get furloughed don’t lose access to classified information; the New York delegation is trying to protect September 11th health and compensation programs; Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) wants to prevent furloughs for members of the National Guard who work full time as uniformed civilians maintaining equipment; Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) hopes to save the TIGER transportation grant program; Reps. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Tom Cole (R-OK) have a bill to exempt the Indian Health Service fund; Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mark Udall (D-CO) are releasing a new version of legislation this week that would give agency heads more flexibility in how they implement the budget cuts.

We expect this sort of legislation to consume much of the public debate in Congress throughout the summer and fall.

Immigration: The Senate Judiciary Committee will resume their work on a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws (S 744) Tuesday and Thursday with members of the chamber’s so-called gang of eight focused on which of hundreds of amendments filed could be potential deal-breakers. The committee chairman has said he hopes to finish the markup before Congress breaks for Memorial Day recess in two weeks.

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