Kellie Mejdrich

Disaster aid bill could grow, block diversion of funds to wall
Measure unlikely to go far in Senate

The House is scheduled to take up a $12.1 billion disaster aid package Wednesday that would reopen the nine closed Cabinet agencies for three weeks and, if approved during floor debate, prevent President Donald Trump from tapping the bill’s emergency funds for building a border wall.

The underlying bill would direct aid to victims of recent calamities such as hurricanes that hit Florida and the Carolinas, wildfires that ravaged California and typhoons that struck island territories in the Pacific, House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., told the Rules Committee on Tuesday.

GOP disaster aid leftovers reflect fresh chance for Democrats
Approps panel ‘will bring up a comprehensive disaster package in the coming weeks’

The shutdown fallout may have handed Democrats an unpleasant start to their new House majority. But it also created a fresh opportunity for political victory on a bigger, broader disaster aid package that could hit the House floor in the coming weeks.

Billions are needed to rebuild after recent hurricanes, floods, fires and other natural disasters that ravaged the U.S. in 2018, such as Hurricanes Florence and Michael; mudslides and fires in California, including the Camp Fire that razed the town of Paradise, Calif.; floods and tornadoes that ripped across various parts of the nation; volcanic eruptions in Hawaii and a major earthquake in Alaska; and typhoons that devastated Pacific island nations and territories ranging from the Philippines to Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Trump to Huddle With House Republicans as Shutdown Situation Fluid
Some Republicans hold out hope that Trump will veto seven-week stopgap

The House is weighing a seven-week stopgap spending amid conservative grumbling that it caves to Democrats’ anti-border wall demands.

“My guess is they wouldn’t have brought it to the floor unless they thought they could pass it,” Rep. Bill Flores of Texas said Thursday morning. The measure hadn’t yet been officially scheduled for a vote, however, likely out of concern that the president’s position was still unclear.

Postal Service Prayer: Deliver Us From Fiscal Doom
White House stops short of calls for outright privatization, but big changes could lie ahead

The United States Postal Service faces a major policy shakeup at a time when package delivery has become more central to Americans’ lives than ever.

A growing reliance on e-commerce has driven demand for direct-to-door shipping for everything from textbooks to toothbrushes. And to the casual observer, USPS is playing what looks like a seamless part in the process, with more and more packages delivered the “last mile” to customers’ doors by government workers.

Unfinished Appropriations Work Piled High as Yuletide Awaits
Avoiding partial government shutdown tops the list

Welcome to “hell week” on Capitol Hill.

From wrapping up seven of 12 outstanding appropriations bills to enacting a landmark overhaul of criminal sentencing laws, the last week before Christmas is shaping up to be a frantic one — made more difficult by likely absences of lame-duck lawmakers not coming back next year.

Budget Scuffle Stalls ‘Blue Water’ Benefits for Vietnam Vets
Science, costs concern for GOP holdouts; Dems yell hypocrisy

Senators and veterans groups are working to convince a few last holdouts to stop blocking a quick floor vote on a bill to extend benefits for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

Advocates are lobbying President Donald Trump to sign the bill if the Senate clears it. But Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah has questions about whether science backs up the policy. And Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming is concerned about its nearly $2.2 billion cost over a decade.

Informal Nature of Border Wall Request Roils Spending Debate
Trump still hasn’t submitted “budget amendment” on $5 billion demand

President Donald Trump’s $5 billion demand for a U.S.-Mexico border wall has held up the entire spending wrap-up for fiscal 2019. Yet Trump still hasn’t put the details of that request on paper in any official capacity, a departure from precedent that is in keeping with this president’s unconventional style.

The fact Congress hasn’t gotten a formal letter to change the border ask seems technical. But it has set a stage for debate where no one’s arguing on the same terms. And this has arguably let lawmakers and the White House escape a broader debate on the substance by simultaneously referring to an outdated budget request or a dollar figure that doesn’t exist formally on paper.

In Appropriations Endgame, All Roads Lead to Border Wall
Dec. 7 funding deadline fast approaching

Sooner or later, President Donald Trump will have to confront the political reality that Congress is extremely unlikely to provide the $5 billion he wants to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

That realization has to occur in less than a month, with the House and Senate both in session for only 12 legislative days before the current stopgap funding measure expires Dec. 7.

How Congress Made CHIP a Budgetary Boondoggle
Lawmakers have routinely used the Children’s Health Insurance Program to fund other priorities

It’s getting harder and harder not to think of the nation’s signature health insurance program for children who aren’t quite poor enough to qualify for Medicaid as a “slush fund” to tap for other congressional priorities.

Lawmakers are on the verge of wringing another $7.7 billion in budgetary savings out of the Children’s Health Insurance Program to finance the discretionary portion of the Department of Health and Human Services’ fiscal 2019 budget, among other expenses in the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations conference report. That would bring the CHIP offsets tally to $58.3 billion since the GOP House takeover after the 2010 midterms, according to a review of Labor-HHS-Education spending laws over the past nine years.

Leahy Endorses Return of Spending Bill Earmarks
Doing so could allow for orderly, timely appropriations process, Vermont Democrat says

The top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee would like to bring earmarks back to the appropriations process, restoring a practice banned in 2011 after several years of scandals and negative publicity.

Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy told C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” on Friday that there’s “no question” that once again allowing earmarks is one way lawmakers can have an orderly, timely process for annual appropriations bills.

CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman Resigns, Blasts Mulvaney
“Consumers no longer have a strong, independent Consumer Bureau on their side”

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Student Loan Ombudsman Seth Frotman resigned Monday, citing political differences at the agency under Acting Director Mick Mulvaney.

“After 10 months under your leadership, it has become clear that consumers no longer have a strong, independent Consumer Bureau on their side,” Frotman said in a resignation letter addressed to Mulvaney, who is also the Office of Management and Budget director. Frotman said his resignation is effective Sept. 1.

Education Funding, Eaten Up by Pell Grants, Once Again on Menu
Senate hasn’t debated education appropriations for 11 years. Since then, a lot has changed

While military and health care costs have received plenty of airtime in recent years, the federal education budget hasn’t gotten a thorough vetting on the Senate floor since 2007. That will change if the Senate takes up later this week a massive $856.9 billion spending bill for the departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and a smattering of smaller agencies.

In the 11-year stretch since the full Senate last debated education appropriations, the Great Recession came and went, exploding the number of students either finding themselves out of work or in need of retraining.

Education Department’s ‘Gainful Employment’ Repeal Carries High Price Tag
Topic could come up when Senate begins debating Education Department spending

The Trump administration’s proposal to repeal Obama-era requirements for recipients of federal student aid comes with a price tag of about $5.3 billion over a decade, a figure that is already giving critics ammunition as the Senate prepares to turn to Education Department appropriations this week.

The administration’s proposed rulemaking would rescind 2014 regulations requiring colleges and universities to ensure graduates have low debt-to-income ratios or risk losing access to loans and grants that help students afford to attend their programs. The proposal will be open for a 30-day comment period once it’s published in the Federal Register on Tuesday before the department can turn to drafting a final rule.

Top GOP Leader ‘Not Sure’ Where Trump is ‘Coming From’ on Shutdown Threat
John Thune says there is not much appetite for funding showdown over border wall

President Donald Trump has threatened to shut down the government if he does not get his way on funding for his proposed border wall, but that does not mean his Republican colleagues know where he is going with such hardball tactics.

“I’m not sure ... where the president is coming from,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota said Monday of Trump’s threats over funding for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. “We understand he wants wall funding and we all get that, but I don’t think there’s any appetite up here for anything, you know, particularly at the end of the fiscal year, that would create problems for government funding.”

Kudlow: Trump Administration Will Lower Deficit Despite Projections
WH economic adviser says ‘economic boom’ an important factor

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday that the administration plans to lower the deficit, despite recent upward projections that suggest otherwise.

“The effects of this economic growth boom are going to be a major important factor to this, very important,” Kudlow said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” He then cast the deficit as a byproduct of economic stimulus that would bring in more tax revenue over time.

Crickets on the Chopping Block in Senate Spending Bill
Jeff Flake not too keen on bug-based food development

Arizona’s junior senator has a beef with crickets, and the use of federal funds to develop easier and more delicious ways to eat them.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., has submitted an amendment to the four-bill spending package (HR 6147), under consideration on the Senate floor this week, that would prohibit funds “to support the development of insect-based foods for human consumption, including cricket farming and taste-testing of insect-based foods.”

Do-Nothing Amendments Give Lawmakers Bragging Opportunity About Successes
Provisions have no real-world impact

The House adopted amendments on a two-bill spending package last week purporting to redirect sums ranging from $100,000 to study the impact of a mineral found to cause cracking in concrete home foundations, to $36 million for “public safety and justice facility construction” at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

There’s just one catch: the provisions simply give the illusion of moving money around — with no real-world impact on agency funding priorities. The net financial impact of all 14 such amendments considered during debate on the $58.7 billion Interior-Environment and Financial Services measure — out of 87 total floor amendments on the bill — was precisely zero.

Trump’s Trade Policies Get a Senate Slapdown
Lawmakers support congressional authority over tariff decisions

Senators delivered a bipartisan, if nonbinding, rebuke to President Donald Trump’s trade policies on the floor Wednesday, voting 88-11 to express support for congressional authority over presidential decisions to impose tariffs for national security reasons.

The motion, offered by GOP Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, would instruct conferees on an unrelated $147 billion spending bill covering the Departments of Energy, Veterans Affairs, Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies to “include language providing a role for Congress in making a determination” under a law enabling presidents to impose trade restrictions on security grounds.

House Passes ‘Minibus’ Over Democratic Objections
Sen. Shelby: ‘The sooner the better’

The House passed a roughly $147 billion three-bill fiscal 2019 spending package on a partisan 235-179 vote Friday, overcoming Democratic objections to environmental policy riders and funding priorities in the GOP-drafted Energy-Water title.

The “minibus,” which also carries the Military Construction-VA and Legislative Branch measures, is the first of what House GOP leaders expect to be a series of three-bill packages to try to expedite passage of at least a few of the 12 annual spending bills before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

EPA’s Pruitt Faces Bipartisan Criticism at Senate Spending Panel
Discussion of agency’s budget takes back seat to scandals

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt faced a bipartisan lashing at a Senate Interior-Environment Appropriation Subcommittee hearing where agency scandals largely eclipsed discussion of the fiscal 2019 budget.

“I am concerned that many of the important policy efforts that you are engaged in are being overshadowed because of a series of issues related to you and your management of the agency,” Subcommittee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said as she kicked off a hearing on the EPA’s fiscal 2019 budget.