House and Senate conference committee members Sept. 5 met to discuss a three-bill “minibus” consisting of the fiscal year (FY) 2019 Energy and Water, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (MilCon-VA), and Legislative Branch appropriations bills (H.R. 5895).
This was the committee’s first public meeting since both chambers passed their own versions of these bills in June [see Washington Highlights, June 8 and July 20], and marked the first meeting of any conference committee to work on FY 2019 spending bills. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) opened the meeting by noting that the committee has “been able to make meaningful progress on this package, and I am optimistic that we can complete our work in short order.” He concluded that “success here would generate momentum for the critical work that lies ahead” in passing all 12 appropriations bills.
House Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) shared her concern in the “failure of either chamber to adequately address the transition of the VA Choice program from mandatory to discretionary spending,” to account for changes attributable to the VA MISSION Act of 2018 [see Washington Highlights, May 4]. She warned that “whether we fix this issue in conference or not, at some point Congress will be forced to address this shortfall and avoid cuts to vital domestic programs, including veteran’s services.”
The conference committee intends to finalize a compromise package as soon as Sept. 7, and then hopes to proceed to final votes in both chambers the week of September 10. Both House and Senate Appropriations Committees continue to work towards a goal of passing all 12 appropriations bills by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 (see related story).