Senate panel advances first three spending bills

Senate panel advances first three spending bills
© Greg Nash

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday advanced its first spending bills for fiscal 2022 as senators prepare for their fall recess and the deadline to avert a government shutdown quickly approaches.

The panel passed appropriations bills to fund the departments of Energy, Agriculture and Veteran Affairs (VA) among other agencies, marking the passage of three of the 12 appropriations bills the committee has to send to the full chamber for consideration.

The legislation includes discretionary funding of $25.855 billion for the Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration, a $2.5 billion increase over spending levels for the agencies in the previous fiscal year.

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That funding includes $1.67 billion for the Agricultural Research Service and to address climate change, as well as $1.2 billion in funding for the Farm Service Agency intended to help the agency provide more access to minorities, historically underserved producers and beginning farmers. 

The fiscal 2022 energy and water development bill passed by the panel contains $53.625 billion in discretionary budget authority, an amount that met President BidenJoe BidenHouse Democrat threatens to vote against party's spending bill if HBCUs don't get more federal aid Overnight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Haitians stuck in Texas extend Biden's immigration woes MORE’s budget request and exceeded the previous year’s spending levels by $1.873 billion. 

The bill would provide record funding of more than $8.7 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works program and set a high-water mark for funding for the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

The panel also passed a bill that would provide $124.359 billion in discretionary funding for military construction, the VA, and other related agencies. The figure is $11.235 billion higher than the previous fiscal year’s enacted levels and $1.1 billion more than Biden’s budget request.

The bill would put $155.4 billion toward mandatory funding for the VA to pay for disability compensation and education benefit payments for veterans. It also includes funding increases for veterans' health care and benefits, as well as increases for military construction, veteran homeless prevention, women’s health and mental health programs.

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Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPhotos of the Week: Renewable energy, gymnast testimonies and a Met Gala dress Senators denounce protest staged outside home of Justice Kavanaugh Al Franken on another Senate run: 'I'm keeping my options open' MORE (D-Vt.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in opening statements at the first markup of the fiscal year that, typically, the chairman “would bring a recommended allocation for each of the 12 appropriations bills before the Committee, and seek a vote on that recommendation.”

“The Budget Control Act has expired for Fiscal Year 2022, so there are no spending caps set in law, and the Senate has not yet passed a Budget Resolution establishing a 302(a) allocation for this Committee,” Leahy said. 

The chairman said he would put forward an allocation in the absence of a top-line figure because he believed that “would only divide” and delay its bipartisan efforts. However, he also said he didn’t want the lack of a top-line or allocation to keep the panel from making progress on its bills.

“The Committee should do its work, and the end of the fiscal year is rapidly approaching. I am glad that we could reach agreement to consider these three important bills today,” he said.

Though the legislation saw bipartisan support, with each measure seeing backing from Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyCrypto debate set to return in force Press: Why is Mo Brooks still in the House? Eshoo urges Pelosi to amend infrastructure bill's 'problematic' crypto regulation language MORE (R-Ala.) upon passage so far, the panel’s progress on the bills without a larger deal on spending did not go without warning from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse to act on debt ceiling next week White House warns GOP of serious consequences on debt ceiling Lindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees MORE (R-Ky.). 

McConnell said Republicans won’t back the bills, which need at least 60 votes to pass the evenly divided upper chamber, in absence of a larger budget deal. 

“When it comes to floor consideration, we cannot and will not start planting individual trees before we have bipartisan consensus on the shape of the forest,” he said.

McConnell added that increases in funding levels for defense and nondefense spending would need to be met somewhere in the middle for the chamber to reach a larger deal.