CHN: Appropriations Bills Moving Towards Completion; Across-the-Board Cuts Threatened

It appears Congress is on track for finishing all or almost all appropriations bills before a planned November 18 adjournment. Most federal agencies are currently operating under a continuing resolution that is due to expire on the 18th.
Lawmakers have yet to agree on the bill that funds the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (H.R. 3010). Typically the Labor-HHS-Ed bill is the most contentious. Disagreements remain over funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and preparations for avian flu. The House version contains $2.4 billion for LIHEAP; the Senate bill has $2.2 billion. Because of sharply rising energy prices, pressure is growing to increase LIHEAP funds closer to the authorized level of $5.1 billion. The House spending reconciliation bill included a $1 billion increase in LIHEAP funding over the current year (to $3.16 billion).

Labor-HHS-Ed negotiators have agreed to a total discretionary level of $142.5 billion, which is $329 million less than fiscal 2005. Many human needs programs such as child care, Head Start, Title I education for low-income students, workforce training, mental health services and many others are funded through this bill. Many of these programs are funded either at last year’s levels or lower.

Other appropriations bills not yet passed include Defense, Military Construction and Veteran’s Affairs, and the Treasury, Transportation, and Housing bill (H.R. 3058). Several cuts to housing proposed by the President in his budget were rejected by the House and Senate. One victory in particular is the bi-chamber support of the Community Development Block Grant program. The President’s budget eliminated CDBG but the House bill provides $4.2 billion and the Senate provides $4.3 billion. (The fiscal 2005 level was $4.671 billion.)

An across-the-board cut that hits all domestic discretionary programs remains a possibility. Such a cut could be tacked onto any of the remaining appropriations bills and could affect even those appropriations bills already approved by Congress. End of the year across-the-board cuts are becoming standard operating procedure for appropriators. In 2003 the across-the-board cut was 0.65%, in 2004 it was 0.59% and in 2005 it was 0.8%. Across-the-board cuts mean that programs described as “flat-funded” are actually shrinking – even before taking inflation into account.

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