Kellie Mejdrich

Disaster aid vote is expected after recess, but what’s in it is still in the works
Several issues, including Puerto Rico, continue to be sticking points

Senate leaders are teeing up a vote after the weeklong St. Patrick’s Day recess on an as-yet-undefined disaster aid package for victims of major storms and other natural disasters during the last two years.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on Thursday filed a motion to limit debate on proceeding to a $14.2 billion disaster aid bill the House passed in January.

Puerto Rico aid among issues complicating disaster bill talks
The size and scope of a disaster aid package has become a flashpoint among Senate appropriators

The size and scope of a disaster aid package has become a flashpoint as Senate appropriators construct a supplemental spending bill they hope to move quickly.

The fight appears to be between Democrats who want additional aid for Puerto Rico and states ravaged by 2017 storms, while Republicans are attempting to keep the bill contained to rebuilding from disasters that struck last year.

Disaster aid fix would open spigot for cherry growers
The provision on its face strains the definition of ‘emergency,’ but Washington cherry growers are smarting from China’s retaliatory tariffs

Talk about a sweetener.

An arcane provision moving through Congress as part of must-pass disaster aid legislation would let farmers earning more than $900,000 on average for the past three years qualify for President Donald Trump’s $12 billion program compensating producers for trade-related losses.

Hunt is on for legislative train as riders get in line
Legislative items are piling up, and some worry it will be September before a budget and debt ceiling deal is reached

Urgent legislative items are piling up in search of a fast-moving vehicle, including food assistance for Puerto Rico residents, aid to crop growers in southeastern states hurt by last year’s hurricanes, and compensation for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The hunt got a little more desperate Tuesday after the Congressional Budget Office estimated lawmakers may have even more time than they thought to tackle the statutory debt ceiling. While the nation’s borrowing cap roars back to life at roughly $22 trillion on Saturday, the CBO says Treasury accounting moves will generate enough “headroom” to remain under the ceiling until late September or early October.

Trump’s 2020 budget to contain a big defense boost, and nondefense spending cuts
Russ Vought confirms end-run around spending caps for defense while axing to nondefense appropriations in 2020 budget request

The White House’s top budget official confirmed plans to do an end-run around statutory spending caps for defense and add substantially to the off-budget overseas warfighting accounts, while simultaneously taking an ax to nondefense appropriations in President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget request.

In an opinion piece published online in RealClearPolitics, Office and Management and Budget acting Director Russ Vought laid out a case for boosting the Overseas Contingency Operations ledger well beyond what the Trump administration and Congress have sought in recent years.

Hill Leaders Await Trump Reaction to Spending Deal
‘We’re not sure yet’ without seeing the details, White House spokesman says

White House officials aren’t yet saying whether President Donald Trump will sign the emerging fiscal 2019 appropriations package agreed to “in principle” Monday night by top lawmakers from both chambers.

“We’re not sure yet,” White House principal deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told Fox News. “Until we actually see the language, it’s very hard for us to comment.” He raised concerns about provisions in the agreement that would reduce the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds, saying Democrats wanted that included because of their alleged support of “open borders.”

Top Democrats wary of attaching debt limit to wrap-up spending measure

Top Democrats said Tuesday they don’t support attaching a debt limit suspension to a fiscal 2019 appropriations package lawmakers want to wrap up by Feb. 15.

“No more hostages,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters. “No, I think that’s not a good idea. We ought to be negotiating to get an agreement, not add added elements into it.”

House Democrats delay Homeland Security rollout
The postponement comes after the White House appeared to shoot down the expected proposal Thursday

House Democrats Friday put off a planned morning press conference on a Homeland Security appropriations proposal intended to reflect their demands in talks with the White House to end the partial government shutdown.

Democratic aides said the event had been postponed with no new time scheduled. House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., had said the plan was to roll out the proposal at a press conference at 9:15 a.m. Friday, after talks with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday.

Senate GOP turns to time-honored budget tradition to fund wall
Republicans need 60 votes to keep emergency funds for the wall and other items

If at first you don’t succeed, just call it an “emergency.”

That’s the way out of a budgetary jam that Senate Republicans used this week on a $354.5 billion fiscal 2019 omnibus package that would fund President Donald Trump’s border barrier proposal and other recent requests to Congress.

Disaster aid bill could grow, block diversion of funds to wall
Measure unlikely to go far in Senate

The House is scheduled to take up a $12.1 billion disaster aid package Wednesday that would reopen the nine closed Cabinet agencies for three weeks and, if approved during floor debate, prevent President Donald Trump from tapping the bill’s emergency funds for building a border wall.

The underlying bill would direct aid to victims of recent calamities such as hurricanes that hit Florida and the Carolinas, wildfires that ravaged California and typhoons that struck island territories in the Pacific, House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., told the Rules Committee on Tuesday.

GOP disaster aid leftovers reflect fresh chance for Democrats
Approps panel ‘will bring up a comprehensive disaster package in the coming weeks’

The shutdown fallout may have handed Democrats an unpleasant start to their new House majority. But it also created a fresh opportunity for political victory on a bigger, broader disaster aid package that could hit the House floor in the coming weeks.

Billions are needed to rebuild after recent hurricanes, floods, fires and other natural disasters that ravaged the U.S. in 2018, such as Hurricanes Florence and Michael; mudslides and fires in California, including the Camp Fire that razed the town of Paradise, Calif.; floods and tornadoes that ripped across various parts of the nation; volcanic eruptions in Hawaii and a major earthquake in Alaska; and typhoons that devastated Pacific island nations and territories ranging from the Philippines to Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Trump to Huddle With House Republicans as Shutdown Situation Fluid
Some Republicans hold out hope that Trump will veto seven-week stopgap

The House is weighing a seven-week stopgap spending amid conservative grumbling that it caves to Democrats’ anti-border wall demands.

“My guess is they wouldn’t have brought it to the floor unless they thought they could pass it,” Rep. Bill Flores of Texas said Thursday morning. The measure hadn’t yet been officially scheduled for a vote, however, likely out of concern that the president’s position was still unclear.

Postal Service Prayer: Deliver Us From Fiscal Doom
White House stops short of calls for outright privatization, but big changes could lie ahead

The United States Postal Service faces a major policy shakeup at a time when package delivery has become more central to Americans’ lives than ever.

A growing reliance on e-commerce has driven demand for direct-to-door shipping for everything from textbooks to toothbrushes. And to the casual observer, USPS is playing what looks like a seamless part in the process, with more and more packages delivered the “last mile” to customers’ doors by government workers.

Unfinished Appropriations Work Piled High as Yuletide Awaits
Avoiding partial government shutdown tops the list

Welcome to “hell week” on Capitol Hill.

From wrapping up seven of 12 outstanding appropriations bills to enacting a landmark overhaul of criminal sentencing laws, the last week before Christmas is shaping up to be a frantic one — made more difficult by likely absences of lame-duck lawmakers not coming back next year.

Budget Scuffle Stalls ‘Blue Water’ Benefits for Vietnam Vets
Science, costs concern for GOP holdouts; Dems yell hypocrisy

Senators and veterans groups are working to convince a few last holdouts to stop blocking a quick floor vote on a bill to extend benefits for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

Advocates are lobbying President Donald Trump to sign the bill if the Senate clears it. But Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah has questions about whether science backs up the policy. And Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming is concerned about its nearly $2.2 billion cost over a decade.

Informal Nature of Border Wall Request Roils Spending Debate
Trump still hasn’t submitted “budget amendment” on $5 billion demand

President Donald Trump’s $5 billion demand for a U.S.-Mexico border wall has held up the entire spending wrap-up for fiscal 2019. Yet Trump still hasn’t put the details of that request on paper in any official capacity, a departure from precedent that is in keeping with this president’s unconventional style.

The fact Congress hasn’t gotten a formal letter to change the border ask seems technical. But it has set a stage for debate where no one’s arguing on the same terms. And this has arguably let lawmakers and the White House escape a broader debate on the substance by simultaneously referring to an outdated budget request or a dollar figure that doesn’t exist formally on paper.

In Appropriations Endgame, All Roads Lead to Border Wall
Dec. 7 funding deadline fast approaching

Sooner or later, President Donald Trump will have to confront the political reality that Congress is extremely unlikely to provide the $5 billion he wants to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

That realization has to occur in less than a month, with the House and Senate both in session for only 12 legislative days before the current stopgap funding measure expires Dec. 7.

How Congress Made CHIP a Budgetary Boondoggle
Lawmakers have routinely used the Children’s Health Insurance Program to fund other priorities

It’s getting harder and harder not to think of the nation’s signature health insurance program for children who aren’t quite poor enough to qualify for Medicaid as a “slush fund” to tap for other congressional priorities.

Lawmakers are on the verge of wringing another $7.7 billion in budgetary savings out of the Children’s Health Insurance Program to finance the discretionary portion of the Department of Health and Human Services’ fiscal 2019 budget, among other expenses in the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations conference report. That would bring the CHIP offsets tally to $58.3 billion since the GOP House takeover after the 2010 midterms, according to a review of Labor-HHS-Education spending laws over the past nine years.

Leahy Endorses Return of Spending Bill Earmarks
Doing so could allow for orderly, timely appropriations process, Vermont Democrat says

The top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee would like to bring earmarks back to the appropriations process, restoring a practice banned in 2011 after several years of scandals and negative publicity.

Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy told C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” on Friday that there’s “no question” that once again allowing earmarks is one way lawmakers can have an orderly, timely process for annual appropriations bills.

CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman Resigns, Blasts Mulvaney
“Consumers no longer have a strong, independent Consumer Bureau on their side”

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Student Loan Ombudsman Seth Frotman resigned Monday, citing political differences at the agency under Acting Director Mick Mulvaney.

“After 10 months under your leadership, it has become clear that consumers no longer have a strong, independent Consumer Bureau on their side,” Frotman said in a resignation letter addressed to Mulvaney, who is also the Office of Management and Budget director. Frotman said his resignation is effective Sept. 1.