Congress is only scheduled to be in session for eight days in April, which doesn’t give them much time to finish up work on FY17 spending bills before the current Continuing Resolution (CR) through which the government is funded runs out on April 28.
Reports are that leaders are looking to combine the remaining spending bills in one large group, known as an omnibus spending bill, and have it ready to move after members return from a two-week recess on April 25. If members cannot come to agreement on detailed funding decisions, they may opt to extend the current Continuing Resolution through September, keeping most funding levels flat. They could also do some combination of these options, such as pass a short-term CR to give them additional time to finalize an omnibus bill. Any FY17 appropriations bills would need a minimum of 60 votes to pass the Senate.
President Trump sent an additional spending request for FY17 to Congress in March, requesting $30 billion more for defense and $3 billion more to start construction of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and for other border security measures. To partially pay for these requests, he suggested nearly $18 billion in cuts from the current funding levels to domestic and international discretionary (annually appropriated) programs. These include cuts to important human needs programs, such as employment programs for migrant farmworkers and low-income seniors (cut by more than $500 million from the current CR level) and preventive health services for Native Americans (cut by $25 million). In some cases, the programs slated for cuts in Trump’s FY17 request are ones slated for elimination in his FY18 budget request; this is true for the Community Development Block Grant (which would be cut by $1.5 billion from the current CR level), the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (cut by $372 million) and the Community Services Block Grant (cut by $306 million), for example (for more information on Trump’s FY18 budget, see the related article in this Human Needs Report). In other cases, such as with AmeriCorps (proposed cut of $439 million) and Choice Neighborhood Initiatives (proposed cut of $125 million), Trump’s request justifies cutting programs because Congress has not passed current authorizing legislation, which blames the programs for the failure of Congress to carry out its responsibilities.
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have said that President Trump’s supplemental request won’t be included in the FY17 package due to the late nature of its filing, which came at a time when many negotiations were close to complete. Democrats have vowed to block funding for the border wall, and both sides seem to want to avoid controversial policy language, or “poison pill riders,” on the spending package that could stall progress and force a government shutdown. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) said the president’s supplemental spending request would likely move at a later time.
Reports are that the FY17 spending package will most likely start in the House, but Congress could also use the defense spending bill (H.R. 1301), which has been waiting in the Senate since the House passed it on March 6, as the legislative vehicle for a larger spending package if need be. Only one of the 12 required bills for FY17, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill, has been signed into law.