July | August 2017







Fiscal Year 2017 Omnibus Bill Enacted into Law

By Jeff Stockdale, director of legislative affairs, CSG Washington, D.C., Office
Congress passed and the president signed an omnibus spending bill in the first week of May, ending the possibility of a government shutdown and funding federal agencies through September. The $1.07 trillion spending package had broad support from both sides of the aisle. Congress had to pass a one-week continuing resolution in order to provide additional time to reach an agreement on the omnibus bill on Friday, April 28. The agreement largely rejects some provisions in President Donald Trump’s “skinny budget,” such as steep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, and elimination of funding for the Community Development Block Grant program. It also continues funding for the Second Chance Act, a key priority of The Council of State Governments’ Justice Center, which supports state and local governments in reducing recidivism. 
State officials had been following the appropriations action closely, hoping that a government shutdown would be averted and because of the heavy state reliance on federal funding. According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, almost one third of state spending is supported by federal funding.
The bipartisan measure contains 11 of the 12 annual spending bills for fiscal year 2017, which began Oct. 1, 2016. The only appropriations bill passed on time was legislation that provided funding for military construction and veterans programs. Congress has not approved all 12 appropriations bills on time since 1996. It has relied on the use of stopgap continuing resolutions and omnibus bills to provide federal appropriations.
Republican Party leaders had been eager for a return to “regular order” in 2017, with hopes of passing the 12 appropriations bills individually. Addressing this pattern of patchwork funding, the White House said in a statement dated May 2, 2017, “the administration looks forward to working with the Congress to return to regular order for the FY 2018 appropriations process, and to enacting legislation that reflects the president’s priorities to keep our nation safe and create jobs and prosperity for American workers.”
Both parties celebrated their respective victories in the legislation.
“Many of our priorities—not all, but many of our priorities—are advanced in this,” said Speaker Paul D. Ryan. “Each side doesn’t get everything they want, but we were able to come together and find a package that advanced many of our important goals.”
Republicans touted the $1.5 billion in added funds for border security and the $25.7 billion increase in Department of Defense funding over fiscal year 2016 levels. Democrats praised blocking funds to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and the removal of various other policy riders.
"I am proud that we removed more than 75 poison pill riders from our part of the bill,” said Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, the ranking member on the House Interior and Environment Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations. “These destructive policies would have delisted endangered species, rolled back environmental protections and chipped away at our public lands."
Other provisions, including $2 billion in new spending for the National Institutes of Health, new funding to combat the opioid epidemic and language permanently extending expiring health insurance benefits to retired coal miners drew praise from both Democrats and Republicans. The permanent extension of health insurance benefits for coal miners was a key provision for states in the Appalachian region.
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio highlighted the addition of funding to combat the opioid crisis, saying the legislation “fully funds the 21st Century CURES Act, which includes, as part of it, more funding that goes directly to the states to deal with opioid addiction.”
The bill also included a provision that could give states more flexibility in meeting the EPA’s 2015 ground-level ozone standards. A provision in the bill’s explanatory statement requires the EPA to report to Congress on administrative options “to enable states to enter into cooperative agreements with the agency that provide regulatory relief and meaningfully clean up the air.”
The bulk of the no votes on the bill came from the conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus, who criticized the lack of provisions denying funding to sanctuary cities or Planned Parenthood. In a statement, House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Dave Brat of Virginia said, “This appropriations bill fully funds unlawful sanctuary cities, refugee programs the president has opposed with executive orders, Planned Parenthood, onerous EPA regulations, failed green energy programs, the unconstitutional Consumer Financial Protection Board, and does not block illegal Obamacare cost-sharing subsidies. Furthermore, noticeably absent are key components of the Trump agenda such as the absence of even a down payment for funding a border wall.”