June 15, 2018

H.R.5895, Minibus Appropriations (Energy-Water Development, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, and Legislative Branch)

NOTEWORTHY

Background: The House passed H.R. 5895, the consolidated fiscal year 2019 appropriations act for Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies; Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies; and Legislative Branch and Related Agencies, on June 8, 2018, by a vote of 235-179. The Senate will use this vehicle to consider its versions of the three appropriations bills. The Senate Appropriations Committee favorably reported S. 2975, the Energy and Water Development bill, on May 24 by a 30-1 vote. It reported S. 3024, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill, by a 31-0 vote on June 7. It reported S. 3071, the Legislative Branch bill, on June 14 by a 31-0 vote.

Floor Situation: On June 14, 2018, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture on the motion to proceed to H.R. 5895. The Senate is expected to begin considering a minibus with the text of the three bills reported by the Senate Appropriations Committee as early as Monday, June 18.

Executive Summary: These appropriations bills provide discretionary funding for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2019. The funding levels are $43.8 billion for Energy and Water Development programs; $97.1 for Military Construction and Veterans Affairs programs; and $4.8 billion for Legislative Branch programs. 

CONSIDERATIONS ON THE BILL

The funding in the three Senate Appropriations Committee-reported appropriations bills conforms to the committee’s 302(b) allocations for fiscal year 2019. The bills provide $43.766 billion for the Energy and Water Development programs, an increase of $566 million over the fiscal year 2018 level. For Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, $97.086 billion in funding is provided, a $5.1 billion increase compared to the fiscal year 2018 level. For programs in the Legislative Branch division, $4.79 billion is provided, or $90 million more than in fiscal year 2018.

NOTABLE BILL PROVISIONS

Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies

The Appropriations Committee-reported bill provides $43.766 billion for activities relating primarily to energy research and water-related infrastructure.

The committee-reported text is S. 2975, available here, and the accompanying committee report is available here.

Title I – Corps of Engineers

The bill appropriates $6.927 billion for the Corps, more than $2 billion above the administration’s budget request. Most of the amount above the budget request is directed toward navigation maintenance for rivers and harbors, flood storm damage reduction, shore protection, and aquatic ecosystem restoration.

Title II – Department of the Interior

The bill appropriates $1.478 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation, about $491 million above the budget request. Those funds are broadly allocated toward water and electricity projects in the western United States.

Title III – Department of Energy

The bill appropriates $35 billion for the Department of Energy, which is $9.5 billion over the budget request.

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would receive $2.3 billion, about $1.63 billion above the budget request. The bill directs significant funds toward vehicle technologies, bioenergy technologies (e.g., algal biofuels), solar energy, advanced manufacturing, and building technologies.

Nuclear energy research is funded at $1.2 billion. Fossil fuel energy and research is set at $727 million, with more than half devoted to coal carbon capture and storage systems.

The bill appropriates $980 million for advanced scientific computing research, $2.2 billion for basic energy sciences, $425 million for fusion energy sciences, and $1 billion for high energy physics. ARPA-E would receive $375 million in funding despite the budget request seeking no funding.

The National Nuclear Security Administration would receive $10.85 billion for activities to maintain the safety, security, reliability, and effectiveness of U.S. nuclear weapons stockpiles. An additional $1.9 billion would be made available for nuclear nonproliferation efforts.

Title IV – Independent Agencies

The budget request sought to eliminate the Delta Regional Authority, Denali Commission, and Northern Border Regional Commission. The bill keeps those commissions active and continues their funding, along with a number of other independent agencies.

Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies

The bill provides a total of $97.1 billion in discretionary funding for fiscal year 2019. It provides $10.3 billion for construction of military facilities, family housing, military hospitals, and other Department of Defense buildings. The division also funds $86.8 billion for veterans’ health care, benefits, medical research, the National Cemetery Administration and other agencies.

The committee-reported text is S. 3024, available here, and the accompanying committee report is available here.

Title I – Department of Defense military construction and family housing

The bill contains $10.3 billion for military construction activities. This is $143 million less than the administration’s budget request and $228 million more than the fiscal year 2018 appropriated funds.

While the bill appropriates funding for military construction activities generally at the level of the president’s budget request, the committee report accompanying the bill comments on the relatively flat funding for military construction in spite of the significant increase in overall defense funding. Overall MILCON funding has decreased significantly since fiscal year 2009, when it received $23 billion and included a significant amount for Base Realignment and Closure. Fiscal year 2019 MILCON funding still exceeds the lowest point of post-9/11 MILCON spending, which was $6.8 billion in fiscal year 2015.

Title II – Veterans Affairs

The bill provides $78.3 billion to support medical treatment and health care for approximately 9.3 million enrolled patients in fiscal year 2019. 

The bill includes $860.8 million for the Caregivers Program, an increase of $364.8 million above the administration’s budget request. The committee emphasized that this increase is to be used for veteran caregivers and not redirected to other priorities. There are now at least 21,000 caregivers enrolled in this program receiving stipends, respite care, and formal training from the VA.

Of $4.2 billion for information technology, the bill includes $800 million for the Veterans Electronic Health Record, a reduction of $407 million from the administration’s budget request and an increase of $18 million from fiscal year 2018.

The bill also includes $400 million for opioid misuse prevention and treatment; $779 million for medical and prosthetic research; $525 million for women’s health care; and $270 million for rural health initiatives.

The bill does not provide any funding for the Veterans Choice Fund. The VA Mission Act provided $5.2 billion in mandatory funding for the VA to continue the VA Choice program and transition to the new Veteran Community Care Program.

Section 237 prohibits any funds to be used to contract out any functions performed by more than 10 employees without a fair competition process.

Section 249 provides that the VA may not interfere with the ability of a veteran to participate in a medical marijuana program approved by a state or to deny VA services to a veteran participating in such a program.

Title III – Related Agencies

The bill fully funds $317.7 million in the administration’s budget request for the American Battle Monuments Commission, U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

Title IV – Overseas contingency operations; Department of Defense

The administration’s budget request included $792 million in military construction projects for the European Deterrence/Reassurance Initiative and $129 million for overseas contingency operations military construction. The committee fully funded these projects at the level of the administration’s budget request.

Legislative Branch and Related Agencies

The bill accommodates $4.79 billion for Congress and agencies that support it. It includes funding for items that pertain to the Senate only as well as joint Senate-House items, and it reserves an amount for House-only items. The appropriations committees have long maintained this practice.

The committee-reported text is S. 3071, available here, and the accompanying committee report is available here.

Title I – Legislative Branch

The Capitol Police would receive $453 million for activities to secure the Capitol complex. This increase of $26.5 million over the fiscal year 2018 appropriation is in part for hiring more officers. The committee report directs $1 million for activities to increase member security off campus in the Washington metropolitan area.

Senate operations receive  $933.5 million, or $13.5 million more than in fiscal year 2018 and $56.6 million less than the administration’s budget request. These operations include personal office accounts and committee offices. The committee office account is held flat and the personal office account receives a $5 million increase that is exclusively reserved for the voluntary compensation of Senate interns by Senate offices. The bill continues the pay freeze for Members of Congress that began in 2009. The report directs the Sergeant at Arms to set up an office to identify and coordinate security needs for Members when they are off Capitol grounds. The committee notes that this office’s mission reflects new security threats made clear by the June 2017 shooting in Alexandria, Virginia.

The bill reserves $1.43 billion for House-only operations activities.

The Library of Congress would receive $687.4 million, which will support a project to digitize historic copyright records and set up other electronic copyright systems, as well as hiring more researchers at the Congressional Research Service.

The Government Accountability Office would receive $589.7 million, an increase of $10.8 million compared to fiscal year 2018 that will allow for 100 new staff.

The bill funds the Congressional Budget Office at $50.2 million, a $350,000 increase over last year that will go to hiring new analysts for transparency and responsiveness efforts. The report directs CBO to report on how it will make its work more transparent.

The Architect of the Capitol would receive $504 million, or $10.8 million less than last fiscal year. The bill also reserves $197 million for House-only items relating to the AOC.

The bill provides $6.3 million for the Office of Compliance.

Among other provisions, the bill modernizes the filing process for Senate candidates, permitting them to file directly and electronically with the Federal Election Commission; currently they must file paper copies with the secretary of the Senate.

Another provision would bar the Open World Leadership Center, which operates an exchange program with post-Soviet countries, from hosting senior officials in the Russian government. Open World is directed to limit participation of Russians to those active in free market development and civic and humanitarian work.

Title II – General Provisions

This title includes items regularly carried in appropriations acts. One section ensures staff-led tours of the Capitol building continue. Another section prohibits funds to be used for computer networks that do not block pornography. The bill also prohibits telecommunications equipment procurement from Chinese companies ZTE or Huawei, or from other companies with ties to or owned by China, Russia, Iran, or North Korea.

ADMINISTRATION POSITION

At this time, the administration has not released a statement of administration policy on these bills as reported by the Senate Appropriations Committee. It did release a SAP on H.R.5895, expressing support for “timely consideration of appropriations legislation” and disagreement with the bill’s level of discretionary funding compared to the administration’s budget request for non-defense discretionary programs.

COST

The Energy and Water Development bill’s total discretionary budget authority is $43.8 billion. The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill’s total discretionary funding is $97.1 billion, and its mandatory funding is $109.1 billion. The Legislative Branch bill’s total discretionary funding is $4.8 billion.