LEADERS of the Senate finance and House of Representatives appropriations committees start meeting today to harmonize their versions of the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 in a bid to ensure enactment before the year ends — and prevent a repeat of the delayed approval that has taken a toll on 2019’s overall economic growth.

Lawmakers hope to submit the harmonized budget to President Rodrigo R. Duterte before they take their Dec. 21, 2019-Jan. 19, 2020 break, for signing into law before this year ends.

A copy of a Senate committee report, which Albay-2nd District Rep. Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda showed reporters, showed that the chambers’ versions differed largely in appropriations for the Department of Transportation (DoTr), Department of Health (DoH) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

Under House Bill No. 4228, or the proposed General Appropriations Act (GAA) for Fiscal Year 2020, the DoTr got P146.04 billion, about P26 billion more than the P120.32 billion earmarked by the Senate.

The House also gave the DPWH P529.75 billion, while the Senate gave it P536.58 billion.

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson had pointed out a P45-billion DPWH lump-sum appropriation, while Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto moved to reduce DoTr’s budget due to the agency’s underspending.

The Senate and House proposals also differed in DoH funding, appropriating P100.49 billion and P88.92 billion, respectively.

Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, finance committee chairman, explained during the period of amendments last week that the increase in the DoH budget was intended to fund vaccination of children and improvement of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, among others.

The first meeting of the bicameral conference committee last Friday saw the exchange of each chamber’s proposed amendments. Mr. Angara and his counterpart, Davao City-3rd District Rep. Isidro T. Ungab, will first discuss amendments between themselves. “What happens is, usually, pag may amendments na they don’t agree with, we’ll have to discuss it with the senator or the congressman who made the amendment,” Mr. Angara told reporters last Friday.

The proposed 2020 spending plan hurdled the House on Sept. 20 and then bagged final approval in the Senate on Nov. 27.

The P3.662-trillion 2019 GAA was signed into law on April 15, which left the government operating under a reenacted budget for nearly four months. This stemmed from an impasse on the budget system between the House and the Department of Budget and Management, and later with the Senate on irregular allocations after the budget had already been ratified.

The reenacted budget and the ban on new public works 45 days ahead of the May 13 elections meant planned new infrastructure were left unfunded for much of last semester. That, in turn, made economic growth slow to 5.8% as of September from 6.2% in 2018’s first three quarters. — Charmaine A. Tadalan