© Greg Nash
The House and Senate will meet to sort out differences on the first package of 2019 spending bills on Wednesday, a month after the original meeting was abruptly cancelled.
The meeting is the first step in an ambitious plan to pass nine of 12 spending bills ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline to fund the government for the new fiscal year.
The chambers had been on schedule to conference the “minibus” package of three spending bills, covering Energy and Water, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and the Legislative Branch, on July 12. At the last minute, a disagreement over how to fund a veterans health program led to that meeting being canceled.
The bipartisan Senate bill used emergency funding to pay for the Veterans Choice Program, leaving more resources for other veterans programs. The House bill funded the program as part of the spending cap.
While appropriators say they have made progress, and the House has penciled in a possible vote on the conferenced bill for Friday, the sides have not yet finalized a solution to the problem.
“It’s still being worked,” said Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyLobbying world Progressives fight for leverage amid ever-slimming majority Biden needs to tear down bureaucratic walls and refocus Middle East programs MORE (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Appropriations committee.
Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE (R-Ala.), the lead Senate appropriator, also said that progress had been made, but nothing was fully solved.
“Solved is a strong word,” he joked. “We think we’re working toward a resolution of it.”
In the meantime, the House confirmed a group of conferees for a second package of spending bills, the defense bill and the bill covering the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS) and Education.
While the Senate passed the bills together, the House has not yet voted on its version of the Labor bill, and is likely to skip the step altogether. Conservatives are unhappy with the idea of tying it to defense in conference, however.
“I’m not in favor of attaching Labor-HHS to defense. Any time you do that, you’re using our military men and women as leverage in a way that’s not appropriate,” said Rep. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsGraham told Trump he 'f'd up' the presidency: book Executive privilege fight poses hurdles for Trump Biden does not plan to shield Trump docs in Jan. 6 probe MORE (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
But when asked what sort of leverage the group had to prevent such a move, Meadows shook his head before replying: “Very little.”