November 14, 2011

International Affairs Budget Update, 11-9-11

Tomorrow, the Senate will hold a procedural vote to bring the second FY12 minibus spending bill, including the State-Foreign Operations Appropriations bill (S. 1601), to the Senate floor.  If that succeeds as expected, debate on the minibus will get underway next week, with amendments being considered as early as Monday or Tuesday.  Debate on this next minibus could last the duration of next week and may not be concluded before the Thanksgiving break the week of November 21.   

As has been reported, the International Affairs Budget is very vulnerable with a number of cutting amendments expected to be offered during the Senate debate.  Actual amendments will not be available until they are filed next week.  However, cutting amendments that are likely to be filed include those on the United Nations, State and USAID Operating Expenses, Pakistan, climate change, the U.S. Institute for Peace, East-West Center, and cutting off assistance to nations such as China and Russia that hold more than $10 billion in U.S. debt.

How the Amendment Process Will Work

The amendment process for this minibus will depend on the unanimous consent (UC) agreements (the terms for consideration of the bill and its amendments) and time agreements (limits on time available for debate and who will control that time) reached by the leadership and the floor managers.

Here are a few items to keep in mind:

  1. Timing of Amendments. Though there are three separate appropriations bills (Energy-Water, Financial Services, and State-Foreign Operations) rolled into the minibus, amendments to any of the three bills can be filed, debated and voted on at any time.  Therefore, even though the State-Foreign Operations bill is third and last in the minibus bill text, votes to the State-Foreign Operations bill could occur at anytime throughout the duration of debate on the minibus.
  2. Voting Threshold. It is expected that agreements will be reached requiring 60-vote thresholds for some of the amendments to the State-Foreign Operations bill.  More than half of the votes on amendments to the first minibus required 60-vote thresholds.
  3. Firewall. During debate of the first minibus, so-called “firewalls,” were established, which prohibited consideration of amendments that would have transferred money between appropriations bills.  For example, the Senate was prohibited from considering an amendment that would have cut funding from the Agriculture bill and transferred the savings to the Transportation bill.  It is expected similar firewalls will be established for the second minibus, but all will depend on the UC agreements ultimately reached.