CHN: Appropriations Work Goes Into High Gear Following Budget Deal

On November 2, President Obama signed into law the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which raises the debt ceiling, eliminates of the majority of the harmful sequester cuts, avoids benefit cuts for recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance, and avoids a large premium jump for a sizable number of Medicare beneficiaries (For more on what the deal does and doesn’t do, see CHN’s blog, Voices for Human Needs). All told, the deal means $33 billion more for human needs and other domestic programs in FY16.
The passage of the budget deal allowed appropriators in Congress to turn to the task of dividing up the new top-line dollar figures for the 12 appropriations subcommittees covering the many different departments in the federal government, and drafting spending legislation that must pass by December 11 when the current government funding runs out. Advocates have been weighing in with appropriators to make sure the additional funds secured in the budget act go to human needs programs that have been subjected to years of cuts.

CQ reported that there is some concern that Republicans will look to cut the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/food stamps) and the Head Start program to replace a cut in crop insurance subsidies that was included in the budget act. However, since Democratic votes will be needed to pass any spending package, cuts to these critical programs will likely be met with firm resistance.

Before heading home for a Veteran’s Day recess, the Senate passed the Military Construction – Veterans’ Affairs appropriations bill, its first FY2016 appropriations bill passed. The bill could serve as a shell for an omnibus, a larger spending package that could incorporate all or some of the 12 spending bills Congress was supposed to have passed by the start of the current fiscal year on October 1. Despite speculation that Congress will end up passing an omnibus to set funding levels for everything needing annual approval, Republican leaders in the Senate want to continue moving some of the 12 stand-alone spending bills, too; they are expected to take up the Transportation – Housing and Urban Development spending bill this week unless Democrats move to block debate on the bill. The House passed six appropriations bills earlier this year: Military Construction – VA, Transportation-HUD, Commerce-Justice-Science, Defense, Energy-Water, and Legislative Branch.

There is some concern that harmful ideological policy changes, known as “riders,” could stop a spending package in its tracks and cause a government shutdown or lead to Congress passing a Continuing Resolution (CR), or stop-gap spending measure, for the full remainder of FY16. Many riders are being proposed, setting restrictions in such areas as Department of Labor worker protections, environmental regulations, regulatory protections for consumers, and funding for Planned Parenthood. One new rider would block President Obama’s proposal to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the U.S. in FY16. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced on Tuesday that the House would vote this week to temporarily halt the U.S. refugee program following the attacks Friday in Paris. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement pointing out that “…refugees to this country must pass security checks and multiple interviews before entering the United States,” with the vetting process taking up to two years.  A rider in an omnibus could seek to block funding for the refugee program, which now serves about 70,000 people from all over the world, and would rise to about 85,000 with the increase in refugees from Syria. Blocking entrance of Syrian refugees is a move that the President and many Democrats are expected to oppose.

As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, a full-year CR would be highly problematic for many reasons. Advocates are also very concerned that Congress would put together an omnibus with detailed decisions and increased funding for most appropriations areas, but may give up for several contentious areas and let them operate under a full-year CR. Funding for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education could be threatened in this way. A CR for the rest of this fiscal year would mean no increase in spending for these departments overall – a bitter disappointment should it occur. Advocates are urging members of Congress to reject harmful riders and reject a full-year CR.

Budget and Appropriations
Policy Analyses and Research