Congress Puts Spending Bills in Gear

Congress Puts Spending Bills in Gear


Congress is on pace to do something it hasn’t done in more than 20 years: pass all of its spending bills before the fiscal year begins on October 1.

How they’re doing it: In order to move the appropriations process along, lawmakers are grouping their 12 annual funding bills into small batches of “minibuses” – a significant and apparently productive approach designed to avoid the last-minute “omnibus” bills that combine all of the annual spending into one enormous package. This approach should allow lawmakers to focus more carefully on the contents of each bill, says Caitlin Owens of Axios, ultimately producing a cleaner spending package that faces less political resistance at the end of the process.

Where it stands: The Senate, which has returned from an abbreviated summer break, is expected to start working on its third minibus this week, with funding for defense, labor and health care programs. The combined bill contains about 60 percent of the total appropriations for 2019, which is expected to exceed $1.3 trillion. If the package passes, as it’s expected to, the Senate will have cleared nine of the 12 required bills for next year’s spending.

The House, on summer recess until September 4, has passed six of the 12 bills and is expected to move quickly to pass the remaining six upon its return.

But it’s too early to declare victory: Although the minibus approach seems to be paying off so far, there are still stumbling blocks ahead. The Senate hasn’t taken up a labor bill since 2007, and there are worries that politically-charged policy riders could slow the bill down, according to The Hill. And even if the House and Senate pass all of their appropriations, the final versions must still be hashed out between the chambers. Finally, there’s the Trump wild card. Although President Trump has signaled that he won’t hold up the 2019 spending bill in order to get more funding for the border wall with Mexico, there’s always a chance he could change his mind, resulting in another shutdown showdown.