Chairman Shelby Touts Bipartisan Appropriations Process, Return to Regular Order

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and its Subcommittee on Defense, today delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding the bipartisan effort in crafting H.R. 5895, the minibus appropriations bill.  This bill, which the Senate is currently considering on the floor, packages three Fiscal Year 2019 Senate appropriations measures, including Energy and Water Development, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and the Legislative Branch.


Chairman Shelby’s remarks, as prepared, are as follows:


“Thank you, Madam President.  Just three months ago, Congress passed and the President signed a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package for fiscal year 2018.  No one had time to read it, much less an opportunity to amend it.  The President vowed that never again would he sign such a measure.


“Collectively, we lamented the absence of process and the excess of partisanship that led to that point once again.  The collapse of regular order had become the new normal, despite our usual resolutions to revive it.


“Madam President, I am pleased to report today that the Senate Appropriations Committee has charted a different course in the months since the fiscal year 2018 omnibus became law.  In April, I began working with Vice Chairman Leahy and our colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to put into motion an aggressive schedule to mark up all twelve appropriations bills before the July 4th recess. 


“Thus far, the Committee has passed seven of these bills.  This week, the Committee will mark up three additional bills, and in the final week of June we will consider the remaining two.  We are right on schedule.


“What has been truly remarkable, however, is not the speed of the fiscal year 2019 appropriations process but the bipartisanship that has given it new life.  All seven of the bills passed by the Committee thus far have garnered overwhelmingly bipartisan support.  Most of them, in fact, have been approved unanimously.  This is no small accomplishment in today’s partisan political environment.


“On this point, I want to pause and recognize the significant contributions of Vice Chairman Leahy to this effort. 


“Senator Leahy and I have known each other for many decades now.  In fact, our combined years on the Appropriations Committee exceed the age of many of our colleagues. 


“On this basis, we came together at the outset of the process and determined that only by uniting would appropriations bills make it to the Senate floor.  He and I made a deal, the essence of which Politico succinctly summarized in the headline of a recent article titled, “Poison pills banished from Senate spending bills.”  As part of this deal, Vice Chairman Leahy and I agreed to reject not only partisan riders but also new authorizations in the 2019 appropriations bills.  We resolved that senators on both sides looking to authorize new law in appropriations bills would be referred to the appropriate authorizing committees.


“As the appropriations process has unfolded, I have honored this deal.  Vice Chairman Leahy has honored this deal.  Our subcommittee chairmen and ranking members have honored this deal.  And the results speak for themselves.


“Just last week, for example, the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill passed unanimously out of committee.  Madam President, you would have to go back nearly a decade to find the last time the Interior bill garnered such strong bipartisan support. 


“I recognize that we are still early in the game here, and that many contentious issues lay ahead.  But I believe that we have established a framework for success in returning to regular order.


“It is now time to translate this success to the Senate floor.  Through their discipline in adhering to this framework, members of the Appropriations Committee have demonstrated that their perennial calls for a return to regular order were not hollow.  Today we will begin to discover whether the full Senate is equally sincere in its resolve.


“The package before the Senate combines three fiscal year 2019 measures recently approved by the Appropriations Committee: the Energy and Water Development appropriations bill; the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies appropriations bill; and the Legislative Branch appropriations bill.


“The Energy and Water Development bill provides $43.7 billion in discretionary funding, a $566 million increase over the FY18 enacted level.  The bill addresses critical national security needs concerning nuclear energy while also improving our water infrastructure and investing in basic science and energy research.  Senators Alexander and Feinstein, the chairman and ranking member of the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, have crafted a balanced, bipartisan bill that passed the full committee by a 30-1 margin.


“The Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies bill provides $97.1 billion in discretionary funding, which is $5.1 billion above the level enacted in FY18. This bill supports investments that will ensure maximum readiness and warfighting capability for our troops, while also providing funding for needed improvements and innovations at the VA.  Senators Boozman and Schatz, the chairman and ranking member of the Milcon-VA Subcommittee, wrote a strong bill that received the unanimous support of the full committee.


“Finally, the Senate’s Legislative Branch bill provides $3.3 billion in discretionary funding, which is $68 million above the 2018 enacted level.  This bill makes important investments in the safety and security of those working in Congress and those visiting our Capitol.  Chairman Daines and Ranking Member Murphy of the Legislative Branch Subcommittee, also drafted a strongly bipartisan bill that garnered the unanimous support of the full committee.


“Chairmen Alexander, Boozman, and Daines; Ranking Members Feinstein, Schatz, and Murphy – thank you for your continued hard work and leadership on these bills.  As we move to consideration of these bills on the floor, I urge all Members to submit any amendments they have as soon as possible.


“Vice Chairman Leahy and I are committed to an open amendment process, as are each of the subcommittee chairmen and ranking members who will be managing their respective parts of this package.  Just as they worked diligently to accommodate as many member requests as possible during the committee process, they intend to accommodate as many amendments as they can on the floor. 


“To recap for the benefit of all Members: We are not interested in poison pill riders.  We are not considering new authorizations of law.  But we are interested in discussing substantive amendments that are germane to this package.  This is the path that leads back to regular order.


“It is my hope that we will not be led astray down the path of delay and partisanship that results in yet another omnibus.  That is no way to fund the government.


“Let’s debate and dispose and do our job on behalf of the American people.  Let’s demonstrate that our collective call for a return to regular order was not just for show.  And let’s complete our work on this package in a timely manner so we can move on to the considerable work that lies ahead.


“I thank all senators in advance for their input and cooperation.”