By Felix Lipov /

Budget Deal Doesn’t Rule Out Inclusion of Workforce Provisions in Spending Bills

Although lawmakers and the White House agreed on no “poison pills” or partisan policy riders, proposals to block the OPM-GSA merger and other administration plans are still subject to negotiation.

The bipartisan agreement reached earlier this week to lift the debt limit and establish top-line spending numbers for the next two fiscal years will not preclude Democrats from advancing several workforce provisions already included in the House’s appropriations bills.

When President Trump first announced the budget deal on Monday, he declared that the ultimate spending bills passed in September would have “no poison pills.” Initially, it was unclear whether that referred only to the most partisan of appropriations bill policy riders, like those on abortion or Trump’s proposed border wall, or to other efforts by Democrats to block changes to the federal workforce.

When the House approved its fiscal 2020 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, it included language blocking the administration from using funds to implement the controversial merger of the Office of Personnel Management with the General Services Administration. It also included a provision preventing agencies from unilaterally implementing new union contracts or from implementing contracts as mandated by the Federal Service Impasses Panel without union buy-in. When the bill was under consideration by the House, the White House cited both measures as partial reason for a veto threat.

But a House Democratic aide told Government Executive Friday that the “no poison pill” aspect of the budget deal is more of a general agreement, rather than a hard and fast rule against any policy riders.

“The provision on poison pills simply restates the reality of divided government: bipartisan agreement is required to pass spending bills,” the aide said. “The House will still be able to negotiate on these provisions in conference.”

Now, all eyes are on the Senate, which likely will publish its own appropriations bills shortly after lawmakers return from the August recess. It is unclear whether the Senate will also adopt these workforce measures, although Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, expressed skepticism about the OPM-GSA merger in an interview with The Washington Post last month.

“I want to see how this plan is cheaper for the taxpayer and better for the federal workforce,” Lankford told The Post. “It’s hard to get to a determination of how this makes things better.”

Additionally, any appropriations bill in the Senate requires 60 votes, meaning that leadership needs buy-in from Democrats before legislation can pass.