Despite indications that the Senate would finish its work on its FY 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) spending bill before Thanksgiving, the legislation stalled over a disagreement over a controversial amendment.
The Senate began floor debate of the THUD bill on Wednesday morning, approving three transportation-related amendments by voice vote before Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) invoked cloture on the bill late Thursday, setting up a final vote on Friday morning.
Prior to bringing the bill to the floor, THUD Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) agreed to reject any controversial amendments. In the spirit of this agreement, the two senators worked together with their colleagues to clear for a vote only those amendments that could garner bipartisan support. Over 50 amendments were proposed, including an amendment from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would block refugees from accessing federal assistance that was rejected as being too controversial.
Debate continued on Thursday morning, and several senators took the floor between general speeches to introduce amendments to be voted on later. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) proposed an amendment to examine modifications to entry into a Federal Aviation Administration tower program, but Sen. Paul objected to the amendment and vowed to block any amendments unless his refugee amendment was considered. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) attempted to introduce another transportation-related amendment, but Sen. Paul blocked it as well, bringing work on the THUD bill to a stop.
Before the Majority Leader withdrew cloture on THUD, Chairwoman Collins and Ranking Member Reed said they’d reached an agreement on nine additional amendments to the bill and were hopeful that they can resume work on it in the future. However, the outlook for this particular bill is murky as the Dec. 11 deadline to come to a larger agreement on FY 2016 spending approaches.
While the passage of the THUD bill was an important symbol that the new Senate majority is able to pass appropriations measures, the bill itself is a simple revision of the legislation approved earlier this year by the Appropriations Committee and is not necessarily the bill that will ultimately be folded into the omnibus package. The revised allocation for the Senate’s latest THUD version also is not necessarily the allocation the bill will ultimately receive in the final omnibus. Appropriators are still working, independently of this THUD process, to put together a spending package for the remainder of the year.
That said, the revised Senate bill should be a good indicator of their priorities for the omnibus bill. Two programs within the HUD portfolio benefitted from the increased allocation for the bill- HOME was restored to $900 million and CDBG was increased to $3 billion, which was the FY 2015 funding level for those programs.
The omnibus negotiations appear to still be on track. The deadline for submitting policy riders to the bill is today and appropriators are beginning to compile completed bills into an omnibus package. We’ve heard that appropriators are aiming to complete this process next week so the package can be formally introduced and votes can begin the first week in December.
Things will move very quickly after the Thanksgiving holiday. We will probably be in contact with you multiple times a week with updates and calls to action. It’s critically-important that we not only get the highest funding possible for housing and community development programs in FY 2016, but it’s important to avoid a continuing resolution for the full year. Given the myriad of controversial amendments likely to be added – Syrian refugees, environmental regulations, Planned Parenthood, to name few- the passage of the omnibus is far from guaranteed. Your voice will be particularly vital during this process.
Congress has adjourned for the Thanksgiving recess and won’t return to Washington until December 1. We’ll keep you updated if we hear any new information, but this is the quiet before the storm that will be December. Enjoy your weekend!