2020 Post-Election Analysis Issue by Issue: Appropriations and Budget
With a government funding deadline looming on December 11, 2020, Congress will have its fair share of work to do upon its return after the national elections. The following is a review of the current Continuing Resolution (CR), how Congress might decide to fund the government moving forward and potential leadership changes in the 117th Congress for the Appropriations Committee.
Congress successfully diverted a shutdown this past September, passing a CR keeping spending consistent with Fiscal Year 2020 levels until December 11. Whereas most Departments and outside groups are no fans of a CR (think delayed cancer research grants at the National Institutes of Health), this was an inevitable conclusion to an attempted regular order process that resulted in zero of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittees marking up their bills, let alone passing them on the Senate floor. This is despite the House and Senate having previously negotiated top-line spending numbers.
The House, meanwhile, plowed their way through ten of twelve spending bills. So what does this mean for the December 11 deadline? Below you will find what we anticipate to be the most likely scenarios:
House Democrats along with the assistance of the Biden transition team decide that it is better to wipe the slate clean before the start of the Biden administration. As of November 10 th, the Senate released all twelve of their appropriations bills as the starting point for negotiations on a comprehensive package. Assuming these discussions go well, the four corners come to an omnibus agreement with spending levels close to Fiscal Year 2021. The President, not wanting to tarnish his image on the way out, signs the bill.
Everything in Scenario 1, except we have an outgoing President Trump uninterested in doing any more business with Washington. This would mean a government shutdown from December 11 until the early days of the Biden administration.
The government funding debate gets wrapped up with discussions involving a COVID-19 response package and/or passage of the National Defense Authorization Act. A COVID-19 package relies on appropriations attention due to the need for emergency spending across the government, so if momentum picks back up for a response look for these efforts to be combined. A government shutdown is thereby averted, whether through an omnibus or CR.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer decides he likes his chances in Georgia and decides to only support a CR extension strategy until February or March. Not only is it unlikely that the Democrats gain both seats in Georgia on January 5, it would be a Congressional appropriator’s nightmare to have a Fiscal Year 2021 package outstanding while needing to begin a 2022 regular order process. As such, we see the above scenarios as more likely.
In addition to outstanding Fiscal Year 2021 work, immediately after the election, attention will turn to the race for the Democratic Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, following the retirement of current Chairman Nita Lowey (D-NY).
Three committee members – all women – have declared their candidacy to succeed Chairman Lowey thus far. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) holds seniority, and is current Chair of the Energy and Water Subcommittee. Following behind her is Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), long-time Democratic lead of the Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee. Congresswoman DeLauro enjoys the support of many of the health and education groups in Washington.
Last but not least, and perhaps the dark horse in the race, is Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). The Congresswoman does not come close to the seniority of the other two candidates, but secured the support of many top Congressional Black Caucus members due to her commitment to incorporate social justice reforms as part of the appropriation process. No matter who wins, with the retirement of Defense Subcommittee Chairman Pete Visclosky (D-IN) and Commerce, Justice, Science Chairman José Serrano (D-NY), expect numerous shifts in subcommittee chairs as well.
By way of timing, the House Democratic Caucus plans to hold leadership elections on November 18th and 19th, followed by the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee meetings the week of November 30th to finalize committee chairs.
In terms of the Senate, Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) takes the helm, setting up Vermont for a big boon as Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will likely chair the Budget Committee. All previous ranking members are expected to fill their respective chair slots.
One last item that we are watching closely: The retirement of Lamar Alexander (R-TN) at Energy and Water will mean a new Republican lead for the subcommittee. We expect either Senator Murkowski (R-AK) to move over from Interior and Environment, or Lindsey Graham (R-SC) from State and Foreign Operations.
The Senate has not announced meeting dates for final leadership determinations.