Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By | February 3, 2017

Congress Still Discussing Process for Completing 2017 Spending Bills; Senate Appropriations Panel Finalizes Rosters; Trump Cabinet Nominees Considered By Committees

House Appropriations Committee leaders are beginning conversations about how to fund government agencies for the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2017 after the current “continuing resolution” (CR) expires on April 28. Sometime before that date, Congress will have to pass another CR or complete work on the unfinished 2017 spending bills.

Following the Appropriations Committee’s first meeting of the year on January 24, Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) told reporters it is possible that several of the remaining bills could be combined into a single package before April. Cole also indicated that appropriators are expecting to receive requests from the Trump administration for additional funds for the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security, which could further impact the discussions on how to proceed.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen said he would like to ensure that there is adequate funding for defense without having to make deep cuts to non-defense programs. The chairman confirmed he has had conversations with Chairman Cole, adding, “I’m mindful that a lot of the other subcommittees are concerned about their allocations and their priorities including Mr. Cole. I don’t want to shortchange anybody.”

As their House counterparts began thinking about legislative business, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) and ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced the leadership and complete rosters of the 12 subcommittees. Five of the subcommittees have new chairmen including the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs panel that oversees the VA research program and is now led by Jerry Moran (R-KS). This subcommittee also has a new top Democrat, Brian Schatz (HI).  John Hoeven (R-ND) replaced Senator Moran as chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee that has jurisdiction over funding for competitive agriculture research. Although Richard Shelby (R-AL) remains the chair of the subcommittee (Commerce, Justice, Science) with oversight of the budget for the National Science Foundation, Jeanne Shaheen (NH) is the new ranking Democrat. Several other subcommittees also have new members including:


Marco Rubio (R-FL)

Commerce, Justice, Science

John Kennedy (R-LA)
Brian Schatz (D-HI)
Joe Manchin (D-WV)
Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)

Energy & Water

John Kennedy (R-LA)

 Labor, Health & Human Services

John Kennedy (R-LA)
Marco Rubio (R-FL)

Military Construction/Veterans Affairs

Jerry Moran (R-KS)Marco Rubio (R-FL)

(Italic text denotes freshmen senators)

Senators also continued consideration of President Trump’s cabinet nominees. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing on Representative Tom Price’s (R-GA) nomination for Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). During the hearing, Price paid tribute to the HHS staff, stating they are “doing incredible work to develop new drugs and treatment options, driven by scientists conducting remarkable research.” He added that HHS plays a critical role in fulfilling a promise that has been made to “maintain and expand America’s leading role in American medical innovation and treatment of radical disease.” In response to a question from Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) about whether he supports increases in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Price said, “NIH is a treasure for our country and the kind of thing we should be doing to find cures for diseases.”

Representative Price also appeared before the Senate Finance Committee, the panel designated to vote on whether to send his nomination to the full Senate for consideration. Price’s testimony was similar to his statement to the HELP Committee and he again acknowledged HHS employees and the scientific community. On February 1, the Finance Committee approved Price’s nomination although no Democrats participated in the vote. A Senate vote on Price’s nomination could occur as early as the week of February 6.

Funding for research was also discussed at Senate Budget and Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearings for Representative Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), President Trump’s nominee to become Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) asked Mulvaney if he would support increasing budgets for the federal research agencies, and he replied, “Generally, I do believe that there is a proper role for the federal government in research.” In response to a question from Senator John McCain (R-AZ) about whether increases in defense spending should be offset with decreases in non-defense discretionary spending, Mulvaney said, “I have voted regularly and plan to advise the president that the best possible route forward is to raise the top line defense number and of course have reductions in non-defense discretionary spending.” Mulvaney’s nomination was approved by both committees on February 2.