CHN: FY 2015 Appropriations Process Off to an Early Start

The appropriations process for providing FY 2015 funding has begun.  The process is starting earlier this year and, by some accounts, it should be easier for each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees to produce their bills since the overall funding levels for FY 2014 and FY 2015 were determined in the December Murray/Ryan budget deal (PL 113-67).  The bill set funding for FY 2014 at $1.012 trillion and for FY 2015 at $1.014 trillion.  It also set a ‘firewall’ between defense and non-defense spending, allocating $521.3 billion for defense and $492.4 billion for non-defense  for FY 2015, with appropriators prohibited from shifting from one to the other.  However, passage of the FY 2015 bills will not be easily accomplished.  The $2 billion increase for next year over current funding is well below the amount needed to account for inflation and the demands for more funding for programs like veteran’s health.
Appropriations Committee Chairs Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Representative Harold Rogers (R-KY) have both endorsed the goal of passing all twelve bills in their respective chambers this summer, resolving their differences and enacting the bills into law before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1.  This so-called ‘regular order’ process has not occurred since 1996 (for FY 1997) and many doubt that this year will break the pattern, necessitating a stop-gap continuing resolution to keep the government funded.  Political dynamics will likely make it difficult to pass the more contentious bills.  Conservative Republicans in the House have indicated an unwillingness this time to refrain from using the bills as a way to press for divisive policy changes.  They were pressured not to insist on policy riders when the Appropriations Chairs were working feverishly to complete the FY 2014 Omnibus spending bill (PL 113-76) in January.

The House began consideration of its appropriations bills on April 9.  They passed in Committee two of the least controversial bills by voice vote, the $71.5 billion (also $93.5 billion in mandatory funding) Military Construction-Veterans Affairs and the $3.3 billion Legislative Branch bills.  Democrats objected to Republicans moving forward because usually no bills are passed in Committee before appropriators  agree on subdividing the top line discretionary spending amount ($1.014 for FY 2015) among the twelve subcommittees (called the ‘302(b) allocations).  Typically this happens after the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) ‘scores’ (determines current year spending and forecasts its impact on the next fiscal year) the Administration’s budget.  The CBO is expected to release that information on April 17.  Rather than wait, Republican appropriators used ‘interim’ allocations for the two bills that passed.

Senate will begin marking up bills in the Appropriations Committee in May and plan to use the time promised by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for full Senate consideration in June and July.  It is likely that some of the more controversial bills will not reach final passage by October 1 and will be stalled because of perennial partisan fights in areas likely to include environmental regulations, the Affordable Care Act and contraception.   Whatever is not enacted through regular order will have to be funded through temporary funding measures until an omnibus bill providing for all the remaining program areas is passed.

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