The humid and sticky summer months in Washington, DC are often associated with funding battles on Capitol Hill. Summer is considered “appropriations season,” reflecting the annual tradition of Congress hammering out the details of numerous spending bills to keep the federal government’s departments and agencies funded for another fiscal year. In the past, partisan gridlock has sometimes resulted in government shutdowns when the two sides could not agree to funding levels. But this year, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the urgency to keep the government operating and serving its citizens is paramount.
The House Appropriations Committee is moving full steam ahead with approving bills for the coming year. At a markup on July 8, the Subcommittee on Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (T-HUD) passed a bill to fund the agencies under its jurisdiction, including the Department of Transportation. This bill now awaits approval by the full committee.
Subcommittee members from both sides of the aisle were very complimentary toward each other and the work they have collectively done to put forward substantive funding bills this year. However, the biggest cause of disagreement was the $75 billion in the bill for emergency coronavirus response efforts. Democrats, like Subcommittee Chairman David Price (D-NC-4), stated that this extra funding is crucial to compensate for the cost of inaction on major infrastructure projects throughout the pandemic. Republicans, on the other hand, disagree. As Subcommittee Ranking Member Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL-25) noted, this emergency funding virtually doubles the size of the bill, throwing the regular appropriations process into question.
The House Appropriations Committee is expected to pass the legislation very soon, which would then move the bill to the House floor for a vote. The Senate Appropriations Committee will then begin work on its version of the bill. It remains to be seen whether the appropriations bills, the recently passed House infrastructure package, and a new coronavirus stimulus bill can all be completed before the end of summer. As “appropriations season” comes to a close, DC will quickly move into “election season,” during which the attention of our elected officials will be directed toward campaigning rather than legislating. But the elections will be much more contentious if Congress fails to fund the government for the next fiscal year, and as such we are hopeful that the appropriations process will be successfully completed in the coming weeks.