Lawmakers reached agreement Monday on three spending bills that would provide about $147.5 billion next year for the departments of Veterans Affairs and Energy, Army Corps of Engineers and lawmakers’ offices and the Capitol complex.
The package came together after weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations and at times tense conversations about funding levels and policy language. Aides said it was on track to reach President Donald Trump’s desk by week’s end. The tentative plan at this stage is for the Senate to go first, likely on Thursday, with the House to follow on Friday, although the arrival of Hurricane Florence remains a wildcard.
The toplines for the three-bill conference report reflect the hard-fought bipartisan deal eliminating austere spending caps for fiscal 2019, the second leg of the two-year budget agreement reached in February. The Military Construction-VA title, the largest of the troika, would provide $98.1 billion overall, including $921 million designated as war-related spending outside of the regular caps, or a 5.8 percent boost over the current year. Energy-Water programs would receive $44.6 billion, a 3.2 percent increase; while the Legislative Branch measure is funded at $4.8 billion, a smaller 2.1 percent increase.
Getting three of the 12 annual spending bills signed into law before the new fiscal year begins will be a milestone that Congress hasn’t reached since fiscal 2009. But lawmakers want to beat that record — possibly getting as many as nine of the bills enacted before the end of the month. If they can accomplish that, it’ll be the first time since fiscal 1997 that more than four bills became law before the end of September.
That means more late-night negotiations for appropriators and their staffs during the next seven legislative days. There’s also no guarantee the differences between the two chambers, or those between the two parties, can be resolved in time.
Nevertheless, optimism abounds, especially for the Defense and Labor-HHS-Education spending package. That combination packs the biggest punch of the remaining two conferences, accounting for roughly 63 percent of the $1.244 trillion in “base” discretionary spending for fiscal 2019, not counting Overseas Contingency Operations funds and other spending allowed outside the regular caps.
The four-bill package containing the Agriculture, Financial Services, Interior-Environment and Transportation-HUD bills could follow.
However, if conferees can’t reach a final agreement before lawmakers put together the continuing resolution needed to fund remaining agencies beyond Sept. 30, those departments will continue current funding levels, forgoing their share of the $36 billion spending increases allotted for discretionary accounts next year until after the midterm elections. At a minimum, the CR will cover the Commerce-Justice-Science, Homeland Security and State-Foreign Operations bills.
Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.