House committees are spending the week working on ‘the normal kind’ of budget bills

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Appropriations for 2022 are occupying a House that this week is devoted to committee work. While the Senate has a fresh rafter of nominations to consider, Federal Drive with Tom Temin looked at the week ahead with Bloomberg Government Editorial Director Loren Duggan.

Interview transcript: 

Tom Temin: Loren, let’s start with the House. Actual budget work on 2022.

Loren Duggan: That’s right. This is another busy week for appropriators who spent their period right before the Fourth of July recess making a lot of progress on the bills, getting six of them through committee and another two through subcommittee. And they set themselves a goal of finishing their work, at least in the committee level, by this Friday. So by this Friday, we’ll have 12 appropriations bills through the committee and ready for floor work, possibly later this month, trying to make progress on these all-important bills. Although the progress we’ve seen doesn’t necessarily mean we’re that close to a final group of bills that could be in place by the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year, it’s at least a way for the House to do its initial work to kind of kick off this process. As you know, it started late this year, because the Biden budget requests came later than – certainly than the law calls for but we got a discretionary request in April and then a full request in May. So that slowed down some work. But appropriators used as much of the last few weeks they’ve been in sessions that they could to churn through these 12 bills, and at least lay down their marker for what they’d like to see.

Tom Temin: And the Senate, they’re usually the ones that are behind on those 12 bills and end up with some sort of an omnibus and any, any hint of that similar process going on on the Senate side?

Loren Duggan: They haven’t started writing their bills yet. And there’s been talk for a while from Patrick Leahy and Richard Shelby, who are the Democrat and Republican who lead that committee about trying to get an agreement on a top line spending amount so that their work will be easier. House Democrats have the luxury of a slightly bigger majority, the ability to push through what they want through committee and onto the floor and even through the floor, as long as they can get a simple majority they can get their bills through. In the Senate, obviously, it takes 60 votes to do things like the spending package that they would have to do either individual bills or an omnibus, so Republicans have a bigger role to play there. And currently with the 50/50 Senate, even to get something out of committee, you really need a Republican vote for the Democrats to make sure that those bills can get out and onto the floor. Although, as we’ve seen, even when things are evenly split, there are ways to force votes. But we may see more action in the Senate later this month, potentially some markups, and getting things out and ready for eventual negotiations. But there’s still no handshake agreement between the parties and the two chambers on how much to spend in total. The house gave itself a number to work with the Senate will try to nail that down. And we’ll see where that gets us toward that Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year. But we’re likely looking at a pretty busy winter, as lawmakers will be trying to wrap up this work probably approaching the holiday season.

Tom Temin: Yeah, so the CR is going to come anyway, then at the end of the fiscal year, looks like at the end of the summer there. And on a related issue, what is the status now of infrastructure, because there was all this fanfare over an agreement that the president would sign, would not sign, but it’s really kind of stalled since then hasn’t it?

Loren Duggan: Well, there was a handshake agreement over a bipartisan infrastructure plan. But that has not yet been made legislation. That’s something that Senate committees have spent the last couple of weeks working on, taking a table with numbers and some kind of conceptual ideas and writing actual legislation that will probably span several 100, if not well into the thousands of pages. There’s two tracks going on: There’s the bipartisan plan, which reflects the agreement between President Biden and some Republican and Democratic senators, and then there’s the reconciliation portion of this that would advance some of the things that were in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan and American Families Plans that are outside of the scope of that bipartisan agreement. So we’re likely to see votes in July on portions of that, probably the bipartisan infrastructure plan that’s ready. And then the budget resolution that would set up that reconciliation legislation later on. We may see that come from the budget committee and get onto the Senate floor. Those are the two top priorities for Majority Leader Chuck Schumer going into this next couple of weeks of sessions.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Loren Duggan, editorial director of Bloomberg Government. And what are some of the nominations in the Senate this week?

Loren Duggan: Well, on the floor, there’s a State Department nomination vote tonight, and then we’ll probably see another vote on a Labor Department nomination. But you know, these these are now getting into some of the second and third tiers of some of these departments after all the cabinet slots were filled. But there’s still a lot of open positions throughout the government, obviously, that committees will be processing by holding hearings, holding some markups, and then trying to get those to the floor where the Senate will process those nominations as it waits for that bipartisan infrastructure plan. And some of that reconciliation legislation. We’ll see hearings this week on the Navy secretary nominee and some other nominations, I believe, as HHS and Commerce. So there’s a lot of work being done by committees trying to process these nominations. And then floor time is pretty precious in the Senate, but they are churning through those as they can.

Tom Temin: Yeah, there’s a slew I guess of nominations coming for the Defense Department, too, that they’ll take up probably beyond that.

Loren Duggan: That’s right. So you know, we’ll have the Navy secretary and some others and then I’m sure there’s more to come as the Armed Services Committee deals with that and also begins to turn its attention to the National Defense Authorization Act, which will be all important for these nominees to carry out should they be confirmed and put into office.

Tom Temin: All right. And also, I’m reading at Bloomberg the Postal Service budget is up for discussion to this week.

Loren Duggan: That’s right. Even as the appropriators are writing these bills and figuring out how to fund the government, agencies are still coming before different committees to justify what they’ve asked for, for fiscal 2022. One of the agencies, as you mentioned, is the Postal Service. Now, their role in the federal budget isn’t that large. But there is some money in one of the appropriations bills that helps fund postal operations, including things like free mail that the government helps to offset the cost of, and also some very important writers over time, like you have to have six-day mail, and you shouldn’t close rural post offices. But I think what a lot of this will focus on is just some of the issues that I’m sure a number of lawmakers have heard from their constituents over the last few months about delayed mail or their concerns about packages, not getting there on time, whatever the case may be. So anytime you have somebody to bring before you and ask tough questions, you’re going to take advantage of that. And I’m sure this will be an interesting hearing from that perspective.

Tom Temin: Loren Duggan is editorial director of Bloomberg Government. As always, thanks so much for joining me.

Loren Duggan: Thank you.

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