CHN: Budget Season Begins – What to Watch For

Less than two months after FY16 appropriations were wrapped up in December, Congress and the Obama Administration are already working on FY17 budgets. President Obama is technically required to submit his budget proposal to Congress by the first Monday of February, but that timeline has slipped to March or April in past years. This year, President Obama is scheduled to release his requested FY17 budget – the last budget of his Administration – on February 9, formally kicking off the new budget season. The White House has started to release some detail of what will be included, like $12 billion over 10 years to reduce child hunger during the summer (for more information, see the related article on child nutrition in this Human Needs Report and this blog post on CHN’s blog, Voices for Human Needs).
Moving at an earlier timeline than in previous years, House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) is expected to release the House Republican budget in February, with consideration by the House Budget Committee planned for February 25. Floor action in the House is expected the first week in March. The Senate is expected to move more slowly than the House.

Congressional budget resolutions serve as an outline, including policy recommendations and providing an overall total funding level for annual appropriations, but without the line-item detail of the President’s budget. However, in this case, the overall funding totals for FY17 were set by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. Therefore, it is not necessary for Congress to pass a budget this year. The Congressional budget resolution is not subject to the President’s signature and is not signed into law. The two chambers have an April 15th deadline for agreeing on a joint budget resolution, although that deadline has often been ignored.

There is talk that Republicans in the House and perhaps even in the Senate will include a process in the budget resolution known as reconciliation to cut and make changes to mandatory spending programs (those programs not subjected to the annual appropriations process, like Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP/food stamps, and Social Security) and/or to enact tax cuts. When included, this language instructs authorizing committees to draw up legislation based on the instructions. A reconciliation bill cannot be filibustered and only needs 51 votes to pass in the Senate. However, unlike a budget resolution, it has to be signed into law by the President and therefore is subject to a possible veto.

According to CQ and Morning Consult, Chairman Price said House Republicans could use reconciliation instructions to overhaul the welfare system, and that overhauling the tax system was an “outside possibility.” Repealing the Affordable Care Act (President Obama vetoed a bill to repeal the ACA, which was passed by Congress using reconciliation, on January 8) and the changes Rep. Price proposed to Medicare last year (turning it into a voucher program and cutting funding) are also expected to make a return, and it is possible we may again see proposals to turn low-income programs into block grants. The FY16 House budget, also authored by Rep. Price, slashed funds for critical human needs programs and would have pushed millions of people into, or deeper into, poverty. If Congressional Republicans hope to present a balanced budget, draconian cuts to low-income programs are almost certainly expected, especially given the Congressional Budget Office’s recent projection that the federal budget deficit will increase this year for the first time since 2009. Part of the reason for the growth in the deficit is the $680 billion package of tax cuts, mostly for corporations, Congress passed along with the omnibus in December.

Budget and Appropriations
Policy Analyses and Research