House Appropriators Float 12-Bill Omnibus Before Recess
Package would likely be dead on arrival in the Senate
House Republicans are weighing an ambitious plan to pass a 12-bill appropriations package for fiscal 2018 ahead of the August recess, top GOP appropriators told CQ Roll Call on Thursday.
The package effectively would be an instant omnibus — one that consists of 12 spending bills written by the GOP-controlled House Appropriations Committee.
House appropriators would need to mark up their bills at a breakneck pace in order to bring a full package to the floor before the August recess, which is scheduled to begin the week of July 31. That would be a tall order any time and especially when work on the fiscal 2018 budget and appropriations has lagged months behind schedule. The 2018 fiscal year begins Oct. 1 and lawmakers have just 12 legislative days planned when both chambers will be in session in September.
At a closed-door Republican conference meeting Thursday morning on budget policy, Rep. Tom Graves, chairman of the Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee, tested the idea of bundling the 12 appropriations bills into a single package “that identifies our priorities and aligns along with the president’s priorities.” That would occur immediately after the usual markups in subcommittee and committee, so that a single bill would be presented to the House for an up-or-down vote.
Graves, a Georgia Republican, said his suggestion was “very well received” by members of the conference, including GOP leadership.
“They were very open to it. I approached it more as a solution to some of the constraints or challenges that we have ahead, just as a new idea, a new way to think about how we can accomplish the same objective but through a different process,” he told CQ Roll Call in a phone interview. “It’s certainly a paradigm shift, no question about that.”
The long delays have prompted some Republicans to grapple for a new path forward to avoid a lack of a spending plan in September and once again kicking the can down the road in the form of a continuing resolution. Given the very late start to fiscal 2018 spending work, and the daunting checklist of other legislative priorities on the Republican agenda, the prospects of a traditional appropriations process are already bleak. President Donald Trump unveiled his full budget proposal on Tuesday, and neither chamber has written a budget resolution yet that would set topline spending levels for the next fiscal year and give appropriators the green light to mark up their bills.
Graves said his Republican colleagues on the Appropriations Committee were on board with the plan, and they have “expressed to me that they are willing to work on fly-up days, fly-out days, days that we’re not officially here, and even through weekends if necessary to get this done and provide a responsible, conservative, Republican spending bill to the floor prior to the August recess.”
Republican leaders have said they would adhere to so-called regular order — bringing all 12 annual spending bills to the House floor individually before the start of the new fiscal year. But that almost never happens and is even more unlikely this year, because lawmakers are already months behind schedule and there’s no agreement between the parties on overall spending levels.
Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for the Appropriations panel, said in an email that Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., is “committed to passing all 12 appropriations bills through regular order.”
Because of the extremely compressed calendar, Graves and other Republicans said it makes sense to fast-forward past the floor work on individual spending bills. They emphasized the catchall package would be a conservative piece of legislation, rather than the compromise measures that are often hashed out in private by Republican and Democratic leaders.
“What Tom’s talking about, and I think it’s a very, very good idea, is just write a Republican omnibus up front and have a big fight over that,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a senior Republican appropriator. “We would have a very clear statement of Republican principles.”
“I think it has a lot of merit, and it had a lot of appeal today, so we’ll see where we go,” he added.
Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, another top GOP appropriator, said the idea was “interesting and worth looking at.”
“If we end up with an omnibus, why not think about it now?” Simpson told CQ Roll Call.
Cole said Graves did not propose how to address topline spending levels, which are set to decrease in fiscal 2018 for both defense and nondefense discretionary spending unless Congress reaches a new budget agreement to change the statutory limits set in a 2011 deficit control law.
Even if House Republicans are able to cobble together an omnibus and pass it before August — a monumental task, given the short time frame and the typical opposition of many Republicans to large spending bills — the legislation would likely be dead on arrival in the Senate, where Democrats will be needed to pass any spending bills for fiscal 2018.
Cole said he also warned members of that likelihood, pointing out that Senate rules require 60 votes to take up most legislation and there are only 52 Republicans in the chamber.
“Let’s not get away from a fundamental reality: at the end of the day, we will sit down with the Democrats because this process has to be bipartisan as long as the Senate has the rule of 60,” he said.
Graves said he hasn’t yet talked to any senators about his idea.
Passing a GOP-crafted omnibus out of the House could still give Republicans a leg up on messaging, though.
Cole said Republicans would go home to their districts during the recess to tout the legislation, giving them a head start on selling their spending plans to the public ahead of the inevitable fight with Democrats before the Sept. 30 deadline.
“We would pass it before August, and that’s what we would go home to — to talk about and to position our leadership to negotiate in the fall, when we’re going to have to do it anyway,” he said.
Graves said that after Congress finally wrapped up a disjointed fiscal 2017 appropriations process earlier this month with an omnibus package, more than seven months into the fiscal year, he started talking to other House members about a better path forward for fiscal 2018.
He said the idea of immediately passing a 12-bill package would mirror the spending processes used by many state legislatures, including the Georgia General Assembly, where he served before joining Congress.
Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.