Senate Procedure and House Practice serve as the guides for how Congress should work.

Senate Procedure and House Practice serve as the guides for how Congress should work.

As political tensions rise in Washington, DC, pleas for a return to “Regular Order” grow. Regular Order can mean anything from a more bipartisan way of conducting the nation’s business all the way to a return to the arcane rules that govern the way legislation is passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. This is the way work on the Hill used to be done.

In an effort to pass more, or all, of the 12 FY19 appropriations bills that make up the annual federal budget, the U.S. Senate combined two of the bills, the Department of Defense appropriations bill and the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, and Education appropriations bill, which funds, in part, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). It was thought that the combined bill was more likely to pass than the two bills considered separately.

The plan worked. The package of bills was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the president two days before the start of the fiscal year, a rarity these days. Along with becoming law before the start of the new budget year, the NIH portion of the bill includes another strong increase for the NIH. For the fifth year in a row, the budget for the NIH has received a healthy increase of at least $2 billion (last year, it increased $3 billion over the previous year).

Recent years have seen threats of, or actual, government shutdowns that have led to grand bargains on how to fund the federal government. The Labor, Health & Human Services, and Education appropriations bill has been part of those big agreements. This year, however, the calls for Regular Order led to more debate on the details of the package of bills. A total of 350 amendments were offered to the two-bill package—a majority, 313, in the Senate. About one-third, 98 of the amendments, was debated on either the House of Senate floor, and 88 were agreed to. These are all good signs that Regular Order could one day be regular order again.

Kevin Wilson