CHN: FY2016 Appropriations Season Begins
The lack of an approved joint budget resolution didn’t stop appropriators in Congress from starting their work on the 12 annual appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2016. The House Appropriations Committee began by taking the sequester-level cap of $1.017 trillion used in the GOP budget (effectively frozen from the current year) and dividing it up among the 12 spending bills. Theses allocations, which are known as 302(b)s and which set funding levels for each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees, were approved last Wednesday.
Of particular note in the allocations (listed in the table below) are the cuts to the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bill, which covers many critical human needs programs. The House 302(b) for this bill is more than $3.7 billion less than current spending levels. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the senior Democrat on the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, noted that after adjusting for inflation, the budget for this bill has been cut by almost $20 billion since 2010. Rep Nita Lowey (D-NY), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, also condemned the House 302(b)s. She put forth alternative allocations which mirrored the President’s budget request and would have provided $167.67 billion for Labor-HHS appropriations and $64.86 billion for the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development bill, which is also of particular interest to advocates. However, these alternative allocations were defeated along party lines in the committee. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that another year of sequestration would leave domestic and international appropriations 17 percent below their FY 2010 levels, taking inflation into account.
The House Appropriations Committee also passed two of the 12 spending bills – the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill and the Energy and Water bill – last Wednesday, and the bills are expected to be on the House floor this week. The two bills approved by the committee have spending totals of more than $5 billion more than those two bills last year. With a total spending cap for all 12 bills only $3 billion over last year, these increases will cause human needs programs covered under the Labor-HHS and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development bills to be squeezed even further. The director of the Obama Administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) sent a letter to House Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY) noting that, taking the total from these two bills into account, “the Republicans’ budget framework would require cuts of roughly 8 percent compared to the President’s Budget for the rest of the non-defense discretionary accounts.” It also notes that the Republican’s budget would bring annually-appropriated (“discretionary”) funding to the lowest levels in a decade and would lead to tens of thousands of children losing Head Start, 2 million fewer workers getting job training and employment services, and thousands fewer medical research awards . The President’s budget calls for an end to sequestration and would begin to reverse some of the cuts of the past five years, notably in housing, education and training, and public health. In fact, President Obama has said he will not sign any spending measure that keeps sequestration in place.
Budget gimmicks may cause additional squeezing of human needs programs, too. According to CQ, appropriators used a one-time $1.1 billion payment from a penalty imposed on Toyota to spend on programs under the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill in FY15 without counting the money against the bill’s cap. If they want to fund those programs at similar levels this year, the lack of the $1.1 billion penalty windfall will force cuts elsewhere.
Senate appropriations subcommittees have begun holding hearings but have not yet passed any bills or released their 302(b) allocations yet. Many advocates remain hopeful that a budget deal can be reached that removes the sequester caps – similar to the Ryan-Murray budget deal passed in Dec. 2013 – to allow more funding to go to human needs programs that have been cut in the past. To this end, CQ is reporting that Democrats may vote en bloc against the spending bills – joining a group of ultra conservative Republicans who typically vote against the bills – in order to attempt to defeat the bills and secure an agreement from Republicans to raise the spending caps. This may be risky, however, as it may cause the Dems to be seen as obstructionists and/or may allow the Republicans to make future bills even more conservative if Dems’ attempt fails. Stay tuned to the Human Needs Report and CHN’s blog, Voices for Human Needs, for updates.