Regular readers of the Policy Blog will recall that we have been keeping track of the Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations process. The same readers will also remember that the bottleneck for completing the work on next year’s Federal budget has been the Senate. This isn’t unusual, the Senate’s tradition of seeking compromise and agreement, between the majority and minority, means that the gears move much slower (in comparison, the House works as a relatively fast “majority rules” chamber).
But there is some good news on the horizon that signals movement on the stalled legislation. Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) has packaged four appropriations bills into a single piece of legislation and the Senate has taken the first procedural steps to consider the bill. To translate that for the layperson, the Senate is now considering whether to pass or reject this package of bills. If the chamber does pass it, that means the House and Senate can begin negotiating a final compromised bill, which can pass both chambers, and head to the President’s desk to be signed into law.
The Senate package being considered contains the agriculture; interior; transportation and housing and urban development; and commerce, justice and science (CJS) bills. Of most importance to the computing community is the CJS bill, which contains funding for the National Science Foundation, NIST, and NASA (House and Senate numbers). All of these bills are viewed as noncontroversial. Should the legislation move, indications are that a packaged bill of defense, and labor and health and human service (Labor-HHS) would be next on the Senate’s fast track; that would also be good news, considering research funding for the Defense Department (DOD) and NIH could then be finalized.
Now to put hopes into perspective: there are still many potential stumbling blocks. There is still no agreement, between the House and Senate, on the allocations for each appropriations bill (called 302(b) allocations). As well, there are major policy disagreements between the two chambers on defense funding, specifically about allowing DOD funds to be used for construction of the President’s proposed border wall. And the Administration can only be described as a wildcard; their proposed budget, containing significant cuts, has been rejected by Congress again. Will that have an impact on signing funding legislation into law? While there’s potential progress, there’s still a lot of work to do before FY20 is done; keep checking back for updates.