Final action on the 11 remaining FY2017 appropriations bills must wait until the new Congress and the new administration take office in January.
With the Dec 9 expiration date for the current continuing resolution (CR) looming, the House voted (326-96) and the Senate went along (63-36) to approve an extension of the CR (H.R. 2028) until April 28, 2016.
There was a bit of late-night drama in the Senate as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVA) and other Senators from coal-producing states threatened to block passage of the bill unless health care benefits for miners were funded for the entire year. Realizing they did not have the votes to block the bill and not wanting to shut down the government, Sen. Manchin and his supporters relented, vowing to continue the fight in the new Congress.
Commenting on the bill, House Appropriations Committee (HAC) chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) called the CR a “band aid that will give the next Congress the time to complete the annual Appropriations process, and in the meantime take care of immediate national funding needs.”
Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) agreed. “This continuing resolution is not a substitute for full-year appropriations, but it is necessary to sustain the operations of the federal government until we can complete consideration of the remaining FY2017 appropriations bills,”
Rogers cautioned against the idea of using a CR to fund the government for the full year. “This type of short-term spending should not be the answer to funding the federal government for the year,” he said. He urged the next Congress to compete work on all remaining FY2017 appropriations bills “to ensure the proper and responsible use of tax dollars, to provide necessary resources for important programs and services, and to hold federal agencies accountable to the American people.”
The CR essentially allows agencies to fund FY2017 programs at the FY2016 level ($1.07 trillion for the total government) for almost five months. During the CR period an additional $5.8 billion is provided to the Department of Defense (DoD) and $4.3 billion to the State Department of the Agency for International Development (AID) “to support military and diplomatic efforts to fight ISIS and terror around the globe.”
The bill also includes $4.1 billion for disaster relief needed to respond to Hurricane Matthew, floods, droughts, and other weather-related events. Of this amount, the Army Corps of Engineers will use $1.025 billion for flood and coastal protection projects and the Federal Highway Emergency Relief program will apply $1 billion for repair of damaged highways. Community Development Block Grants in the amount of $1.8 billion will be used for recovery and rebuilding efforts for individual home damage caused by severe storms and hurricanes.
An additional $872 million is provided in the bill for “critical medical research, drug approval, and drug abuse efforts. Of this amount, $500 million is provided to states response to the opioid abuse crisis. The bill also provides $170 million to communities (e.g., Flint, Michigan) affected by drinking water contamination.
In DoD-related activities, the CR includes provisions that allow funding to be used for the Ohio Class Submarine Replacement program, Apache Attack Helicopter and Black Hawk Helicopter multiyear procurements, and the KC-46A Tanker program.
The CR includes provisions preventing a pay increase for Members of Congress, providing $45 million (fully offset) for retired miners covered under the United Mine Workers Association 1993 Benefits Plan, and allowing funding for NASA’s Deep Space Exploration Program.
The bill also provides for an expedited process in the Senate next year for language that would allow retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis to be considered for the post of Secretary of Defense. Mattis, who has been named the as prospective nominee for Secretary of Defense, retired from active service three years ago. Because current law prohibits such service until a retired officer has been out of the service for seven year, the senate would have to pass a waiver for his nomination to be considered,
President Obama is expected to sing the bill.