CHN: FY18 Appropriations Work Continues as Congress Approaches March 23 Deadline

Appropriators continued negotiations through the weekend to try to complete a spending package to fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year before the current funding runs out on March 23. While topline spending caps for discretionary (annually appropriated) defense and nondefense programs were agreed upon in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 passed in February, members of Congress must finally come to agreement on item-by-item spending details. They will achieve this through an “omnibus” spending package that will combine the 12 required appropriations bills covering all government agencies for the rest of the fiscal year in one package.

One possible holdup in completing a spending package involves money to boost nondefense programs above the caps. In the past, when changes in mandatory programs (known as CHIMPS) such as delayed or canceled spending result in savings, that money can be spent on annually appropriated programs. The White House wants CHIMPS eliminated, but the FY18 budget resolution allowed for $17 billion in CHIMPs for domestic discretionary programs. Democrats in Congress are pushing to use all $17 billion to boost programs for low- and middle-income people. Republicans are insisting that only $14 billion be spent. The bipartisan budget deal previously passed provides $63 billion in new dollars for nondefense spending and $80 billion in new dollars for defense spending for FY18, and Democrats agreed to it under the assumption that the $17 billion from CHIMPs savings would make the increases equal.

There is also the possibility that legislation addressing a solution for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and/or legislation addressing gun control could be added to the omnibus; see related articles in this Human Needs Report for more information on those topics. Many other proposals could also be on the table for inclusion in the omnibus, or they could become sticking points in trying to get an omnibus passed. These include disaster aid for Puerto Rico (a commitment to provider disaster relief funding was included in the enacted two-year agreement to lift the sequester caps), money for a border wall and for deportation enforcement, possible fixes to the GOP tax law, and health care changes such as payments to insurance companies to help lower costs for lower-income marketplace enrollees (known as cost-sharing reductions, or CSRs), or funds for states to set up reinsurance programs that help pay for high-cost patients.

Democratic leaders in Congress and many advocates are opposed to possible poison pill riders, or controversial policy changes, that members of Congress may try to add to the omnibus. Top Democrats last week threatened to withhold support for the omnibus if GOP leaders included such controversial policy provisions. Some riders opposed by advocates that have been discussed include a mandate that the 2020 Census ask about citizenship status and a repeal of the EPA’s rule on clean drinking water.

House and Senate appropriators hope to complete work on an omnibus bill by March 14 to give Congress time to pass it before the March 23 deadline. If negotiations aren’t finalized by then, it is possible that another short-term stopgap funding bill would be passed to prevent a government shutdown while the omnibus package is wrapped up.

Meanwhile, the Senate Budget Committee is scheduled on Wednesday, March 7 to hold a hearing on the first-ever Defense Department audit. The Pentagon has been criticized for decades for cost-overruns and inability to pinpoint where all of its funds have gone. Despite that, the new deal to lift budget caps increases military spending to $700 billion in FY 2018.

Budget and Appropriations