CHN: FY 2019 Spending Season is Underway
Fiscal Year 2019 spending work is underway, with appropriations work taking place in both chambers. Below are just a few of the highlights and lowlights from some of the bills that have moved so far:
- The House Commerce-Justice-Science bill, passed by the full House Appropriations Committee on May 17, adds 100 new immigration judges and staff to address the backlog of deportation cases. According to CQ, the committee a series of Democratic amendments related to immigration, the border wall and gun control were rejected. The committee also rejected an amendment from Rep. José Serrano (D-NY) to prohibit spending funds on a Census that includes a question about citizenship; advocates fear such a question could reduce response rates in immigrant communities, and adding an untested question so late in the process is strongly opposed by census experts. The bill includes a funding boost to help the Census Bureau prepare for the 2020 Census. For more on the 2020 Census, see the related article in this Human Needs Report.
- According to the National WIC Association (NWA), the House Agriculture spending bill, passed by the House Appropriations Committee on May 16, would provide $6 billion for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program with a rescission of $300 million. This is $300 million less than the NWA’s request for FY19. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) offered an amendment in committee to increase funding for breastfeeding peer counselors to $90 million, up from the current $60 million level (it has been flat-funded for a number of years). That amendment did not pass. The bill also includes $73.2 billion in mandatory funding for SNAP/food stamps; this is $794 million below FY18 levels and is in line with projections of declining enrollment.
- House Transportation-Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee passed its bill on May 16. The spending bill includes a 2.2 percent boost in funding for HUD, rejecting the President’s call to cut the department by 13 percent. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, some programs saw modest increases, such as Housing for Persons with AIDS and Homeless Assistance Grants. However, the amounts provided in the House bill are likely not enough to renew all existing contracts provided through the Housing Choice Vouchers and Project-Based Rental Assistance programs, which could result in fewer families being served. For more details, see the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s full analysis and updated budget chart.
With a goal of avoiding another omnibus catch-all spending package for FY19, the Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to begin taking up its chamber’s versions of the 12 required spending bills this week and clearing two or three bills a week through June. It is possible that spending bills will be grouped in bundles, called “minibuses,” to expedite passage, and that the House could begin taking these up as early as June or July. However, many are already expecting that a stopgap spending bill will be needed to keep the government open from the time the new fiscal year begins on October 1 through sometime after the November elections.
The appropriations process is moving forward despite the fact that neither chamber has yet to pass a budget for FY19, and it is unclear whether either will. As the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, passed in February, provided sequester relief and set spending caps for both FY18 and FY19, there is less incentive for members of Congress to produce a budget for FY19. While Congress is technically required to adopt a budget resolution by April 15 each year, there’s no penalty for not meeting the deadline or not producing a budget at all. Failure to pass a FY19 budget does not stop Congress from working on and passing FY19 appropriations bills; however, it would mean Republicans could not use a special process known as reconciliation, which allows measures with a budgetary impact (like tax cuts, cuts to entitlement programs, or a repeal of much of the Affordable Care Act) to be passed in the Senate with only a simple majority instead of the usual 60-vote threshold required in that chamber.
On the Senate side, because the Senate Budget Committee has not produced a FY19 budget resolution, any Senator could draft his/her own and take it to the floor. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) did just that, offering his “Penny Plan,” which would balance the federal budget within 5 years, and cut more than $400 billion in FY 2019 alone ($13.4 trillion over a decade). The Senate was not interested: it voted down a procedural motion to take up Paul’s budget 21-76.