Congress returns to Capitol Hill today and will continue to debate what, and how much, help to offer Ukraine in its ongoing confrontation with Russia. The House will attempt to take up a non-binding resolution expressing support for Ukraine, but the fate of that measure is uncertain. In the Senate, members will likely pass a bill to toughen prosecution of sexual assaults in the military today, and then several Democrats plan an all-night talk session on climate change. Cloture motions also are pending on four more district judges and a Treasury nomination. Finally, the White House released the final pieces of its FY2015 budget proposal this morning.
Appropriators in both chambers are planning an aggressive timetable for fiscal 2015 spending bills aiming for markups in May and floor action over the summer with hopes of having many of them enacted when the new fiscal year begins October 1st. Lawmakers intend to mark up FY2015 bills at the levels set by last December’s budget agreement (PL 113-67). That would exclude Obama’s requested “Opportunity, Growth and Security” initiative, which proposes an additional $56 billion in spending on defense and non-defense priorities. It is possible, however, that Republicans’ interest in spending more on defense programs could be the start of negotiations that would lead to legislation modifying that December budget deal to allow extra spending on the new initiative.
But even as appropriators show some signs of unity on the process, some observers already are questioning whether the largest non-defense spending bill—Labor-HHS-Education—can be completed as a stand-alone measure in a steeply divided Congress. That measure, set at $158 billion for FY2014 (current year), is a stark example of the deep divide between the parties on social issues. It funds the programs that are anathema for Republicans but bread-and-butter for Democrats. Because it houses so many social programs, the bill is a lightning rod for battles over social issues. Some advocates of domestic programs said their expectations are not very high for the bill, and some are already speculating that Congress will approve a continuing resolution for that measure, at least until after the election. If they do this, then the outcome of the November elections will determine the fate of the underlying programs for the rest of FY2015.