By Lyle Dennis, Cavarocchi – Ruscio – Dennis Associates, Consultants to AASLD
…than it is time to consider FY19’s funding. Although it has only been a month since Congress completed work on the FY18 funding levels for every governmental agency, they have now switched focus to work on the FY19 funding levels. Meanwhile, the agencies are beginning to discuss FY20 funding. This is the world of the federal budget and appropriations process.
At the same time, while November might seem to be a long time from now, the midterm elections’ impact on spending bills is already becoming clear.
As you would imagine, election years tend to stall any significant movement on appropriations bills — especially when there’s potential turnover in control of one or both chambers, as is being reported this year.
Legislative progress can be difficult because lawmakers want to focus on campaigning and are back home more than usual, and party leaders want to shield vulnerable members from tough votes. It is also difficult because the party out of power has an incentive to withhold support if they believe they can take control the following year and can shape spending measures more to their liking.
Looking at the situation historically, in midterm elections going back to the Reagan administration, for example, there has been a change in control in at least one chamber in all but three cycles: 1982, 1990 and 1998—a statistic not lost on either party eyeing the possibility that they may take control or lose control the House in particular after the November elections.
As is usual at the start of the funding process, both the House and Senate appropriations committees have called for “regular order,” i.e. passing all 12 appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year on September 30. But those calls for early action usually fall by the wayside as the reality of Election Day approaches.
Regardless, appropriations leaders in the House and Senate have currently set a rigorous schedule, with the House panel’s first full committee markup expected to occur on May 8. This week, the House Military Construction-VA and Legislative Branch subcommittees will mark-up their respective spending bills for FY2019. In the Senate, the Republican leadership wants to mark up spending bills in May and see those bills debated on the Senate floor in June.
But their admirably aggressive timetable may have already run into some complications.
Unhappy with the FY2018 omnibus appropriations bill he signed, President Trump has called for a “rescission,” or withdrawal, of unspent funds from prior spending bills, possibly including the fiscal 2018 omnibus. The actual specific cuts have not been submitted to Congress yet, but the White House has made it clear that they will be soon.
At a minimum, asking Congress to rescind funds already appropriated would slow down work on FY2019 appropriations bills. But, it could also disrupt any hopes of reaching bipartisan agreement on future appropriations.
There is an element of trust that goes into legislating (something that has been sorely lacking in Washington in recent years). Rescinding funds just weeks after a tough vote to get the government funded is a trust-breaker that could have serious repercussions moving forward.
When and if the administration sends a rescission package to Capitol Hill, AASLD’s Public and Clinical Policy Committee will analyze it quickly and urge you to contact your members of Congress if we judge it to be deleterious to your patients, your research or your practice. Stay tuned!