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Coronavirus disrupts appropriations schedule

Neither the House nor the Senate spending committees knows exactly when they’ll be able to begin the markup process

This year’s appropriations process, like much other legislative business, is on hold pending lawmakers return to Washington.

While members and staff continue to work remotely, neither the House nor the Senate committees have scheduled any additional hearings or knows exactly when they’ll be able to begin the markup process.

[CBO: Trump budget would cut trillions less from deficits]

Both chambers are out until April 20 at the earliest as lawmakers monitor the pandemic from their states. And House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., told members Tuesday that they should keep their schedules “very flexible.”

“In order to make up for time that has been lost, the House may meet during weeks that had previously been scheduled as District Work Periods, and four-day weeks may become five-day weeks,” he wrote in a letter. “While we have lost legislative days, we have not reduced the amount of work we have to do.”

The House Appropriations Committee had planned to begin marking up its 12 annual funding bills on April 21, according to a tentative schedule previously obtained by CQ Roll Call, but that seems highly unlikely now.

Committee spokesman Evan Hollander said Tuesday that the panel is planning for the annual process while also working to draft a fourth piece of legislation that will continue to address the health care and economic impacts of the novel coronavirus.

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“While the Appropriations Committee does not have any hearings or markups scheduled at this time, the Committee staff is hard at work remotely,” he said in a statement. “We are in constant contact with subcommittee chairs and focused on engaging all of our members as we develop phase four coronavirus response legislation and prepare fiscal year 2021 appropriations bills.”

Hoyer had said he would reserve the month of June for floor debate on the annual spending bills, though it might now be challenging for the committee to meet that deadline if the chambers remain out of town into May.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., said earlier this month that subcommittees might begin holding virtual hearings or might scrap that part of the process altogether — depending on the trajectory of the virus and the Senate’s schedule.

A Senate GOP aide said Tuesday that it’s “too early to know” how the committee might have to augment hearings or markups, but said the panel still hopes to meet its previous midsummer deadline.

“The chairman still intends to move as expeditiously as possible, with the aim of marking up most, if not all, of the bills by the July 4th recess,” the aide said.

The appropriations bills as well as the annual defense authorization bill are some of the more significant pieces of legislation that Congress debates annually.

Yesterday, the House Armed Services Committee “indefinitely postponed” its annual markup. Traditionally, the authorizing bill advances before the appropriations bill.

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