Appropriations Process Pauses as Congress Goes into Recess

Written by Stacie Murphy, Director of Congressional Relations | Published: September 13, 2021

It’s summer in Washington, DC, which means the appropriations process is underway, though, as always, there will be a lull in the proceedings as Congress leaves town for its August recess. Given the progress in the House of Representatives so far, however, the future looks bright for international family planning supporters.

House Tackles a Pair of Great Appropriations Bills

First up was foreign aid. On July 1, the House Appropriations Committee considered the Fiscal Year 2022 State Department and Foreign Operations (SFOps) appropriations bill, which:

  • Increased funding for bilateral family planning to $760 million ($185 million above the prior year);
  • Provided a U.S. contribution for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) of $70 million ($37.5 million above the prior year);
  • Included the Global HER Act language to permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule; and,
  • Removed the Helms Amendment from the bill (though it remains part of permanent statute).

A trio of Republican amendments attempted to undermine these advances, with Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-TX) offering an amendment to reinsert the Helms Amendment, which forbids the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds for abortion “as a method of family planning.” The Granger amendment was rejected on a vote of 27-31 with all Democrats, except Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), opposed. All Republicans voted in favor.

The second amendment, offered by freshman Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-IA), was a broad amendment with multiple parts. It would have reinserted the Helms Amendment, deleted a requirement to provide complete and accurate medical information on modern contraceptives and condoms, eliminated the permanent legislative repeal of the Global Gag Rule, and reversed a slight modification to the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which has been used in the past by Republican presidents to deny funding to UNFPA. The Hinson amendment was rejected 27-31, identical to the tally on the Granger amendment, with Rep. Cuellar again voting with the Republicans.

The final amendment was offered by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD). Rep. Harris’s amendment was quite radical, combining a flat-out prohibition on any funding for UNFPA with a total elimination of the $760 million set aside for bilateral family planning programs. The Harris amendment was rejected on a straight party-line vote of 26-32, with Rep. Cuellar joining the rest of his Democratic colleagues in voting it down.

After disposing of all amendments, the Appropriations Committee voted 32-25 to send the bill to the House floor, where it came up for a vote on July 28. The House Rules Committee limited amendments, causing Republicans to decide to offer what’s known as en bloc amendments—a list of amendments grouped together for one up or down vote. That vote failed, and the final bill passed the House by a vote of 217-212.

In a statement after the bill’s passage, SFOps Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) said:

This bill makes critical investments in global health and humanitarian needs, provides strong funding to address the climate crisis, and advances gender equity. … I’d like to thank Chair DeLauro for her leadership and my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee for their dedication to getting this bill across the finish line.

While the SFOps bill was making its way to the floor, the Appropriations Committee turned its attention to the Labor/Health and Human Services (HHS) bill. That bill:

  • Increased funding for the Title X domestic family planning program (the only federally-funded family planning program for low-income Americans) to $400 million ($113.5 million above the prior year);
  • Included $130 million for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention program ($29 million above the prior year);
  • Provided zero funding for ineffective and medically inaccurate abstinence-only programs; and
  • Excluded the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of federal funding for abortion except under very limited circumstances. (Unlike the Helms Amendment, Hyde is “only” an appropriations rider and is not part of permanent statute.)

On July 15, the Appropriations Committee met to consider the bill. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) offered an amendment to reinsert the Hyde Amendment language into the bill. His amendment failed, 27-32, with Rep. Cuellar again joining with all committee Republicans to vote in favor. Ultimately, the committee voted to approve the HHS bill on a party-line vote, 33-25. It came to the House floor as part of a package of spending bills on July 29, where it passed 219-208.

What’s Next?

In an ideal world, we’d immediately see the Senate pass the same set of bills and watch President Biden sign them.

However, since we’re not in an ideal world, things are likely to play out somewhat differently. Practically speaking, the Senate versions of the bills are guaranteed to differ from those passed by the House. We haven’t yet seen the Senate language, and we don’t have a firm schedule for when it will be considered. At our print deadline, Congress was on recess, so we can be certain there won’t be further progress until members reconvene in September.

That won’t leave a lot of time for the Senate to work before the end of the fiscal year on September 30, which means that one of several things is likely to happen. Both sides may agree to speed up the process by skipping floor votes on individual bills or passing them as part of an omnibus package. Even if they do that, however, there will still need to be some way of reconciling the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bills. Usually, that’s accomplished by a Conference Committee—a handful of members appointed to negotiate a compromise.

No matter how it plays out, a Continuing Resolution, or CR, which will fund the government at current levels for a few days or weeks, while the details of the final package are hammered out, is likely.

It’s all very cumbersome, and sometimes it feels like something of a miracle that government functions at all. But despite the tediousness of the process, there’s a lot to look forward to this year. We’re on the cusp of ending the Global Gag Rule forever. For the first time, the House has passed a repeal of both Helms and Hyde. Long-needed funding increases for both domestic and international family planning programs are on the horizon.

It’s going to be an exciting fall.