CHN: Fiscal Year 2016 Appropriations Process Continues

The House and Senate are going through the motions of marking up FY 2016 appropriations bills. The House has passed six of the 12 bills on the floor; the Senate has passed three bills out of the full Appropriations Committee but none has yet to reach the floor. Looming over the process are the Administration’s statements that the President will veto any appropriations bills that come to his desk while the ‘sequestration’ cuts for FY16 are still in place. Sequestration is the imposition of deep cuts, primarily to appropriations, required by the 2011 Budget control Act if Congress does not agree to other means of reducing the deficit. The President’s budget released in February ended sequestration for FY16 by adding $37 billion for both non-defense discretionary and defense discretionary programs.
Democrats’ strong opposition to the appropriations process stems from that fact that Republicans, whose majority status allows them to draft the bills, have kept in place the sequester cuts for non-Pentagon programs while skirting the limit on Pentagon spending. They have done this by adding $38 billion more to the war-related Overseas Contingency Operations fund (OCO) than the Administration requested. OCO is not subject to sequestration cuts. Democrats think that equal relief should be available for non-Pentagon programs for which there is no OCO-like account. The Coalition on Human Needs’ report documents the cuts in discretionary programs critical to low-income programs and the need to restore funding.

It is almost certain that at some point Republicans will have to agree to negotiate with the President and Democrats to adjust current discretionary sequester spending caps. The only one of the House bills that passed with a margin wide enough to override a Presidential veto is the Legislative Branch bill, which includes funding for Members’ salaries. However, House Democrats could still change their vote to uphold a Presidential veto if the bill were to reach the President’s desk.

Senate Democrats have determined a strategy to hold the line before the appropriations bills reach the floor. Most have come to consensus that they will vote against the motion to proceed to bring the bills to the floor, which requires 60 votes to pass. Several Democrats have not yet agreed to the strategy, but even without them it seems the 46-member caucus will prevail. The first test might come in late June when Republicans have indicated that the first bill they will bring to the floor will be the Defense Appropriations bill. The Senate is currently debating the Defense Authorization bill. Democrats were unanimous in support of an amendment by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) to move $38 billion out of the OCO fund back into the regular Pentagon budget, but the amendment failed 46-51 along party lines. The motion to vote on final passage will come this week. It is not yet known if Democrats will object to the motion to proceed to final passage on the authorization bill or wait until the Defense Appropriations bill comes to the floor. The House passed its Defense Appropriations bill by a vote of 278-149, enough to sustain a Presidential veto.

While the appropriations process will likely grind to a halt this summer, it is concerning that the bills that are passing the House contain many ominous program cuts and policy ‘riders’ that could be hard to remove later in the process. The Transportation-Housing and Urban Development bill takes non-appropriated money that is intended to fund the National Housing Trust Fund and uses it to offset shortfalls in appropriated programs. Similarly, the House Financial Services bill moves funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is outside of the appropriations process, into the appropriations bill, likely a strategy over time to gut the agency which has long been opposed by Republicans. The Commerce-Justice-State bill would deny any funding from Homeland Security for the President’s November immigration executive orders.

In the context of SAVE for All Campaign meetings with staff of Republican members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, it is clear that some of them support a deal mitigating the impact of sequestration. House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) is among those who have expressed the need for more money to complete the appropriations bills. Senate Appropriations Chairman Cochran (R-MS), House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are not ready to concede that a deal is necessary.

There will most likely need to be a Continuing Resolution to fund appropriated programs when FY 2016 begins on October 1. Negotiations will likely be wrapped up into a broader negotiation in November or December when it will be necessary to increase the federal debt ceiling.

Stay tuned to the Human Needs Report and CHN’s blog, Voices for Human Needs, for updated information.

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