August 22, 2019 5:24 pm
With August recess winding down in two weeks, lawmakers are eyeing a long legislative to-do list when they return to Capitol Hill.
The list looks much shorter for the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who set the goal of finishing all 12 appropriations bills by June 30.
The chamber almost achieved it, passing 10 appropriations bills before leaving town for their districts this summer. Only the homeland security and legislative bills remain on the House to-do list.
The Senate, however, hasn’t passed a single appropriations bill for 2020, and time is quickly running out.
“I’m going to be talking to [Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.)], the chairwoman of the appropriations committee,” Hoyer told a group of reporters Thursday. “I’m going to call her tomorrow and call [Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)] tomorrow and urge them to do everything they can between now and Sept. 30 … to see if we can come to an agreement.”
The Senate will likely use the House bills as a guide as the two chambers conference over appropriations bills ahead of the end of the fiscal year.
“I think that we can get to an agreement on most of the bills,” Hoyer said.
Debate over the homeland security appropriations bill, which ultimately held up negotiations last year and led to a 35-day government shutdown, will likely be divisive again this year.
Senators are discussing how they can package together the appropriations bills into some kind of omnibus, Hoyer said.
He said he’d like to avoid a continuing resolution at the end of the fiscal year but acknowledged one could be inevitable, especially considering the status of the appropriations bills in the Senate.
“If we do a CR, it’ll be short term,” he said. “When I say short term, no more than 60 days. Shutting down the government is a harmful alternative.”
The House version of the financial services and general government bill, which includes a 3.1% pay raise, is of notable interest for federal employees.
“Keeping them even with inflation, which is what essentially the 3.1% does, is a great benefit to them individually but also to our economy in the Washington metropolitan area — and also an enhancement of our ability to retain good people,” Hoyer said of the proposal.
President Donald Trump proposed a federal pay freeze for civilian employees in his 2020 budget request.
The president has until Aug. 31 to send an alternative pay plan for federal employees to congressional leadership. Otherwise, significant locality increases under the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act will kick in at the start of next year.
Trump, like his predecessors, will likely send his plan to Congress just before the deadline.
The annual defense authorization bill is another priority for Hoyer. The House version includes the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (FEPLA), which would replace the patchwork of options government employees have now to take sick, maternity or paternity leave.
FEPLA, which Hoyer and Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Jennifer Wexton and Don Beyer (D-Va.), introduced earlier this year, would guarantee up to 12 weeks of paid leave for federal employees to witness the birth, adoption or fostering of a new child and care for a new child or family member with a serious medical condition.
The leave would also apply to federal employees who have a serious medical condition themselves and need time to recover.
“We put it in the defense bill to give it a better chance of passage, and we’re going to fight for it,” Hoyer said. “We’re very much for this and we hope that the Senate will agree. I don’t know whether they will or not; we haven’t gotten to that place yet.”
Hoyer said he’s hopeful Senate Republicans will be supportive of the program but hasn’t heard whether a specific senator will sponsor or champion the initiative.