Despite promises from Republican leaders in the House and Senate to pass fiscal year (FY) 2016 appropriations legislation through “regular order” this year, the FY 2016 process has stalled amid issues ranging from a policy rider pertaining to flying of the Confederate flag on federal grounds that killed the bills in the House and calls for the need to broker a larger budget deal. The House and Senate made some progress before the process sputtered out in recent weeks, with both chambers advancing all 12 of their bills through committee and the House managing to pass six of them; however, there were no FY 2016 bills brought to the Senate floor because of a united Democratic strategy to block the bills until a larger budget deal can be struck.
On the agenda upon Congress’s return in September will be to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to keep federal agencies operating beyond the start of the new fiscal year on October 1 and to avert a government shutdown. Rumors indicate that an initial CR could run until December. Also upon their return after Labor Day, Congress is expected to begin in earnest negotiations with the White House on a broader budget deal that will seek to provide some relief from sequestration, or the tight budget caps that are tamping down discretionary spending for defense and non-defense accounts, including research. Until these caps are addressed, and hopefully raised or eliminated, the FY 2016 appropriations bills remain in limbo with Senate Democrats expected to continue blocking the bills and President Obama noting his intent to veto any bill that keeps within the caps. All this makes for an expectedly busy fall for Congress.