The final effort to pass the Senate’s Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2017, S. 3000, fell short, effectively putting an end to this year’s efforts to pass individual appropriations bills. Surprisingly, the partisan split on whether or not to approve the bill, which funds defense agencies, including Navy research and development, was less about the bill itself (spending allocations were under the agreed-upon limit, and the bill passed unanimously out of committee) and wholly about distrust between parties.
Democrats, who were angered by riders included in the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017 (H.R. 2577), were concerned that their counterparts across the aisle would stop passing appropriations bills after the military bill, leaving the remaining 11 bills that fund the government to be mashed into a stop-gap measure with spending at last year’s levels. This would affect all non-defense agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Interior agencies referenced above. While Republican Senator Thom Tillis (NC) called the Democrats’ turn from unanimous support for the bill “disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst,” Senate Appropriations Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski (MD) defined her party’s goals as having parity between defense and nondefense spending, recognizing all appropriations bills in a stop-gap measure, and no “poison pill riders” – similar terms agreed to in last years’ bipartisan budget deal, which was supposed to cover 2017. With the appropriations process falling apart, a stopgap funding plan is expected when Congress resumes in September.