NAICU Washington Update

Congress Scrambles to Finalize Spending Bills

September 27, 2019

With the October 1 start to the 2020 fiscal year looming, Congress is scrambling to finalize spending bills and keep the government open.
Upon return from the August recess, the Senate subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education set out to markup its appropriations bill, which includes student aid funding.  This effort, however, was thwarted by discontent from Democrats about the funding levels and from Republicans about the reemergence of partisan policy riders. As it became evident that the traditionally bipartisan subcommittee would be unable to endorse a bill, subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO) released his FY 2020 spending bill and report draft, thus showing his hand.
While the subcommittee has a much lower allocation than the House version, it still reinforces the bipartisan support for need-based aid.  Sen. Blunt’s bill provides a $135 increase in the Pell Grant maximum award to $6,330, and does not cut the other student aid programs.  The bill also includes a $3 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health.
The difference between the House and Senate bills sets up negotiations toward a middle ground without cutting or eliminating funding.  The question will be how high toward the House funding levels can the Senate go.
Because of political pressures on the funding split between defense and non-defense spending, the Trump Administration’s push for border wall funding, and the broken handshake agreement on policy riders, it is unlikely that the education bill will get a vote on the Senate floor.  Unless further negotiations take place to redistribute funds, final negotiations will take place later this year.
With that in mind, Congress passed a continuing resolution to avoid a shutdown and keep the government running until November 21. This will allow time for further negotiations, and punt the border wall funding fight until right before Thanksgiving, the next natural deadline.

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