You have probably read about the large funding packages under consideration in the Congress allocating billions of dollars to physical and human infrastructure. Newspapers across the state are reporting that billions of dollars will be coming to the State of Washington – that might be true – but the process in Congress to get to that point is convoluted, confusing and not immediate, despite what is being reported.
I wanted to take some time and outline the state of play and the process because this is important to WSU. We need to start thinking about how we best coordinate to utilize this once in a lifetime opportunity of federal funding to support our students, institution, and research.
There are several paths currently going forward in Congress addressing federal funding streams:
The first is the “normal” FY 2022 annual appropriations process. WSU Office of Federal Relations engages in this process on an annual basis through programmatic request letters and support for increasing funding in federal accounts we utilize to support our research and students.
Every year, Congress is required to consider twelve bills to fund the federal government. Within these bills, Congress gets into program-by-program funding levels for things like NIH, NSF, Agriculture Research Service, NASA, DOD and more. For the first time in over a decade, the Congress is also allowing for congressionally directed spending for specific projects, otherwise known as “earmarks”; we are keeping an eye on this process as well. The key date is September 30, the end of the federal fiscal year, when these twelve bills are supposed to be completed. Both the House and the Senate are currently moving through this process. Money appropriated through this process is intended to be obligated during the next fiscal year.
It is unlikely that the Congress will complete all its work on the FY 2022 Appropriations process prior to the end of the current fiscal year. In the event that Congress does not finish by Sept 30, they will likely pass a short-term Continuing Resolution or “CR” that will fund the government at current levels for a specified period of time until such time that they are able to complete the process.
In addition to the normal appropriations process, this year the Congress is considering two multi-trillion packages to support investment in infrastructure in response to the economic impact of the pandemic and the spotlight on our country’s infrastructure needs.
The first package is the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (“BIF”) – a $1.2 trillion bill that includes reauthorization of existing infrastructure programs as well as $550 billion in new funding for grid and water infrastructure, roads, bridges, transit, rail, broadband, ports and more. This package has been highlighted as part of the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better plan to support physical infrastructure. BIF was passed by the Senate on August 10 by a bipartisan vote of 69-30 and the bill now heads to the House of Representatives.
The House passed its version of a “hard” infrastructure bill, the INVEST in America Act, on July 1 by a bipartisan vote of 221-201. The INVEST in America Act is a $715 billion surface transportation reauthorization and water infrastructure bill.
The House and Senate must now reconcile the differences between their two approaches. There will be tremendous pressure for the House to keep the Senate’s version as intact as possible to keep the bipartisan agreement together – any changes the House makes will require the Senate to vote on it again before sending it to the President for his signature.
Complicating passage of the infrastructure bill is the tying of its legislative fate to passage of the other components of the President’s Build Back Better Plan associated with “human” infrastructure i.e., education and workforce training, healthcare, social services & etc. (more below). Because there is not bipartisan consensus on the need for or scope of these initiatives, the majorities in the House and Senate will utilize a separate legislative process that requires only a simple majority – Budget Reconciliation – to move this through the legislative chambers. Narrow majorities in both the House and Senate make threading the needle on this pretty difficult. Members at the progressive end of the political spectrum want to ensure their more moderate colleagues vote to pass the Reconciliation package by delaying a vote on the “hard” infrastructure bill until after the “human” infrastructure package passes. Conversely, a group of moderates in the House, large enough to prevent passage of anything, is demanding that the “hard” infrastructure bill hit the President’s desk before they will advance the Budget Reconciliation process.
We will get more insight into how this plays out when the House returns for a schedule session the week of August 23rd. Strong, bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate want an infrastructure package signed into law, but we have a ways to go before that will happen.
Budget Resolution and Budget Reconciliation
This second package establishes a Budget Resolution framework of $3.5 trillion in what is being called “human” infrastructure investments to be offset by new tax revenues, health care savings and economic growth. This package will include provisions that directly affect the federal budget — whether mandatory spending, taxes, or both including;
- Funding for deferred maintenance
- Agriculture infrastructure,
- Funding for infrastructure at our national labs,
- Climate funding across federal agencies,
- Extension of tax credits,
- Expansion of Medicare,
- Tuition free community colleges,
- Increased investments in PELL grants,
- Workforce development,
- Investments in health care including pandemic preparedness, health equity, native health, and investments in primary care.
This is also where it also gets a bit complicated, as within the Budget Resolution, there are two separate processes underway.
First is the Budget Resolution itself, which is a nonbinding guiding document that does not require the President’s signature to implement, allocates how much money House and Senate Committees are allowed to raise and spend and provides direction on where to allocate the money. The second is a result of the Budget Resolution process – Budget Reconciliation which is the legislative vehicle that implements the recommendations of the Budget by having the committees of jurisdiction draft bill language specifying how these funds will be allocated. The Senate passed the Budget Resolution early Wednesday morning (August 11) by a vote of 50-49 sending the recommendations to the House, which is scheduled to come back the week of August 23 to consider the package.
Once the House passes the Budget Resolution, Senate and House committees have soft “deadlines” of Sept. 15 to produce legislation carrying out the instructions. Because that deadline is in the Budget Resolution, the date, like the document is not binding which means that since the September 15 date is not a statutory requirement – this process will likely take a lot longer. Regardless, once the committees consider their instructions from the Budget Resolution, they send their proposals to the House and Senate Budget Committees which then assemble all the individual portions into one piece of legislation – the Budget Reconciliation bill – and this document will be considered by both the House and Senate.
Budget Reconciliation is complicated process used rarely to avoid a procedural requirement in the Senate that requires a 60-vote threshold to move legislation. Rules around the Budget Reconciliation process require a simple majority of votes in both the House and Senate to pass – leading to what the respective leadership hopes to be a clearer path to passage of the $3.5 Trillion package.
There is one check point you will start to hear about as this process moves forward: the “Byrd rule,” named after the late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. The “Byrd” rule allows any member of the United States Senate to call a point of order against any provision of (or amendment to) a reconciliation bill that is deemed “extraneous” to the purpose of amending revenue or spending. If a point of order is raised and sustained under the Byrd rule, the offending provision is automatically stripped from the bill unless at least 60 senators vote to waive the rule. Despite this challenge, the final Budget Reconciliation package will likely be passed by a partisan vote in both bodies of Congress sometime this fall.
The programs being contemplated by both the infrastructure and Reconciliation bills are multi-year, agency led efforts. Getting money out the door will require planning, and in some cases rulemaking, before being obligated. This will take some time.
What does this process all mean for WSU then and how is the Office of Federal Relations engaging with our delegation?
It is in this process that WSU will be advocating directly with our members of Congress for funding for deferred maintenance costs, agriculture infrastructure, increasing the Pell grant, funding for workforce training programs, funding for the power grid and grid security, amongst other things.
Please let me know if you have any questions and I look forward to working with you on behalf of WSU’s students, faculty and staff.
Glynda Becker Fenter
Assistant Vice President for Federal Engagement & Advocacy