Much like any family or business, the federal government must have a budget each year, effectively setting a limit on what it can spend. Producing this annual budget is one of the most vital and important tasks for which Congress is responsible. The process begins with the House and the Senate each passing their own budget resolutions. If the House and Senate pass budgets that are not identical, they enter into what is called a conference. A conference committee consists of members of both the House and Senate that are appointed by their respective bodies to negotiate a consensus budget agreement. Once a conference resolves any differences between the two separate budget resolutions, a report is issued and a concurrent resolution can be passed.
Subsequently, the process of passing individual appropriations bills, as outlined by the conference budget, funds the government for the upcoming year. If differences cannot be reconciled in a conference, or appropriations bills are not passed and signed into law before October 1 – the first day of a new fiscal year (FY) – Congress has the option of passing a short-term spending bill, called a continuing resolution (CR). The CR maintains current funding levels while the House and Senate resolve outstanding differences between different versions of appropriations bills within each chamber, between the two chambers, and between both chambers and the President. This means that a CR typically maintains spending levels from the previous fiscal year until a new spending bill for the next year can be agreed to and enacted into law. Spending limits for FY 2016 and FY 2017 were revised and set in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which was agreed to by the House and Senate on October 30, 2015, and signed into law by President Obama on November 2, 2015.
Originally referred to as the “Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2017,” when introduced by Representative Tom Graves on May 25, 2016, H.R. 5325 ultimately served as the legislative vehicle for the CR when it was taken up by the Senate in September 2016. On September 28, 2016, the Senate passed the amended version of H.R. 5325 by a vote of 72 to 26. That same day, the House passed this new version of H.R. 5325, also in bipartisan fashion, by an overwhelming majority vote of 342 to 85. I voted in favor of final passage. On September 29, 2016, President Obama signed this bill into law.
When we have divided government, as we do now, no one will get precisely what they want. However, as elected representatives, it is important for Congress to make the difficult decisions that allow our federal government to stay open and to have the necessary resources it needs in order to operate. Wherever possible, we must find common ground and build consensus on how to confront the fiscal issues facing this nation. While H.R. 5325 is not perfect, it keeps the government open and provides much-needed funding increases to provide for our military and our veterans.
The final version of H.R. 5325 that became law provides continued appropriations at the levels outlined in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, for federal agencies through December 9, 2016. In addition to keeping the federal government open, this bill also reprograms funding to train and equip our military and improve care for our veterans. It also reprograms needed resources to fight the spread of the Zika virus in the United States and Puerto Rico.
Specifically, this CR provides $1.15 trillion in overall discretionary spending, including $82.3 billion for military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Of this $82.3 billion, $7.72 billion is designated for military construction projects, and $74.4 billion is designated for veterans’ services, including an increase to address the backlog of disability claims and funds to support the modernization of the electronic health records for FY 2017. This is $2.9 billion more than the enacted level of funding in FY 2016. Unlike other projects, agencies, and departments listed in the bill, military construction and the VA are the only components fully funded through September 30, 2017.
In response to the public health crisis presented by the outbreak and spread of the Zika virus, the CR also provides $1.1 billion to fight the virus domestically and internationally. This $1.1 billion includes funding for research dedicated to understanding the virology, natural history, and pathogenesis of the Zika virus. It also includes funding for the development of preclinical and clinical vaccines and other medical countermeasures to prevent the spread of – and eventually eradicate – Zika.
In regard to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, H.R. 5325 prohibits the use of funds for the renovation, expansion, or construction of any facility in the United States to house any individual who has been detained at Guantanamo Bay. It additionally prohibits using any funding to close or realign Guantanamo Bay.
Lastly, the bill authorizes an additional $500 million in disaster relief to respond specifically to floods – such as those that recently affected southeast Louisiana.
I thank my colleagues in the House and Senate for getting this responsible legislation done, and look forward to working with them to pass a long-term spending bill that funds the government through FY 2017. I will also continue working with House Republicans to advance our agenda, “A Better Way: Our Vision for a Confident America.” This bold, clear agenda is comprised of six policy agenda rollouts that take timeless principles – liberty, freedom, free enterprise, self-determination, government by consent – and apply them in such a way that allows us to offer real solutions to our country’s most pressing problems. Should you be interested in viewing the A Better Way policy papers regarding poverty, national security, the economy, the constitution, health care, and tax reform, you may do so by visiting: abetterway.speaker.gov.