The full House Appropriations Committee met earlier today to “mark up” (amend and vote on) legislation to fund the Legislative Branch for FY 2017. As previously reported and expected, language inserted in the official Report accompanying the bill at the Subcommittee level essentially instructing the Library not to implement proposed changes to the subject headings “aliens” and “illegal aliens” was hotly debated. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL23), the Ranking Member (most senior Democrat) of the Legislative Branch Subcommittee, spoke passionately and at length in support of her amendment to remove that language from the Report. She was joined by full Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey and by many other Members of the minority. The amendment also was supported by a joint letter, entered into the record, by the Chairs of the Hispanic, Black, and Asian Pacific American Caucuses.
Although four Members of the majority broke with their party and Committee leaders to support the measure — Reps. Diaz-Balart (R-FL25); Jolly (R-FL13); Valadao (R-CA21) and Young (R-IA03) – the amendment regrettably failed 24 – 25 (with two Members of the Committee absent or not voting). However, neither the Senate’s version of the legislation nor its report is expected to include similar instructions to the Library. Consequently, even if the bill and its Report approved today by the Appropriations Committee is passed by the House, whether the Library’s instructions remain in the final “conferenced” version of the bill will be up to House and Senate negotiators. While clearly not the preferred outcome, today’s tightest of votes on the Wasserman Schultz amendment will make it much harder for House negotiators to successfully insist on retaining the objectionable Report text.
Indeed, it remains unclear whether the Legislative Branch appropriations bill, or any other such funding legislation, actually will make it all the way through this Congress before it adjourns at year’s end. In recent years, the appropriations process has stalled forcing Congress to resort to a procedural measure called a Continuing Resolution (“CR”) to fund the government for a specified period of time at the previous fiscal year’s levels. Typically, report language like that debated today does not accompany a CR. Look for developments on that front, however, no sooner than September.