Now that the budget deal finalized late last month has given them revised spending totals for fiscal year 2016, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are quietly working towards finalizing an omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2016. To facilitate its adoption, the Senate last week approved the House-passed Military Construction/VA appropriations bill (MilCon/VA)(H. R. 2029) to serve as the legislative vehicle for a House-Senate conference on all twelve of the yearly appropriations bills, to be reported in one omnibus package and signed into law by December 11.
MilCon/VA is the first fiscal year 2016 appropriations bill that the Senate has been able to take to the floor. Prior to its passage, Democrats had successfully filibustered several earlier attempts to bring up appropriations bills because they were backing the White House’s strategy to force Republicans to negotiate on the overall spending caps under which they originally wrote this year’s spending bills. This strategy was successful, and the budget deal recently signed into law adds a total of $50 billion to those discretionary spending caps for fiscal year 2016: $25 billion each in the defense and non-defense categories.
The Appropriations chairmen have tentatively decided on how to divide up that $50 billion among subcommittees and have told their subcommittee chairmen to work towards those targets, although the final numbers will not be nailed down until later and will not be made public until the last minute. Some bills, like the Labor-HHS-Education bill that funds the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP), were originally given allocations so low that many seriously doubted the legislation could ever go to the floor at those amounts. Indeed, some experts are now saying that, because of those initial low spending levels, those bills are likely to get a greater share of the extra money.
To that end, the Coalition to Invest in America’s Workforce (CIAW), a group of collegial workforce system and anti-poverty organizations to which AFOP belongs, has written in recent days to Appropriations leaders in Congress to press for adequate funding. The November 13 CIAW calls for the following:
As you work to finalize allocations to annual appropriations bills under the revised budget caps, we urge you to ensure that the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations bill includes sufficient funding to support key workforce and education programs at FY 2016 authorized levels. Severe cuts to vital education and workforce programs over the past few years have hurt our nation’s workers and businesses and restoration of funding is necessary to sustain our economic competitiveness. Without meaningful investments in a skilled workforce, skill gaps will stifle job growth and slow our nation’s economic recovery.
Additionally, AFOP itself has directly contacted the chairmen and ranking minority members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee to urge continued federal support for the National Farmworker Jobs Program, specifically:
To sustain this wise and safe investment in the needs of our nation’s businesses and workforce, it is essential that Congress preserve NFJP funding at fiscal year 2015 levels, as provided in the House Labor-Health and Human Services-Education spending bill. Doing so will allow agencies to continue using their special expertise to serve effectively and efficiently this exceptionally vulnerable farmworker population. Their success in this work is integral to the nation’s food chain, its industry, and, subsequently, its pursuit of job creation and economic stability.
Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have approved their versions of all twelve FY 2016 appropriations bills, but the House has only passed six: Commerce-Justice-Science, Defense, Energy and Water Development, Legislative Branch, Military Construction/VA, and Transportation-HUD. As for the other six bills, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) recently announced that the subcommittee chairmen in charge of each of those six bills would be holding closed-door listening sessions with all House members who wish to attend so that the chairmen can learn of planned amendments and the sentiment of rank-and-file lawmakers. The idea is to let the subcommittee chairmen know which provisions are most important to insist on (and which Senate provisions should be fought the hardest) in the upcoming House-Senate talks on those bills.
Meanwhile, the current continuing resolution (CR) expires December 11, which is the current deadline for action. A short-term CR or two may be necessary to finish up fiscal year 2016 appropriations, so we may not see things finalized here in Washington, D.C. until just lawmakers leave town for the holiday recess.