CHN: House and Senate Budget Committees Move Toward FY20, but with Different Tactics and in Different Directions

While the Senate Budget Committee recently passed a budget resolution for FY20, its House counterpart abandoned the idea in favor of pushing forward a deal to lift spending caps.

The Senate Budget Committee on March 28 adopted (11-9) a five-year budget resolution along party lines. According to Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the Republican budget plan would cut Medicare, Medicaid, and other health care programs by $360 billion over the next five years, including by repealing the Affordable Care Act; cut $55 billion from Pell Grants and other financial aid programs affecting 7 million students; eliminate housing assistance for 700,000 families by cutting $36 billion from housing programs; and in total “cut more than $1.1 trillion from education, health care, affordable housing, child care, transportation, and other programs that working people desperately need over the next five years.” Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY), author of the budget, praised the blueprint saying it, “…starts the process to rein in deficits and debt and provide the foundation for a stronger future…” The budget adheres to the draconian 2011 Budget Control Act spending caps, but according to Enzi, it “creates the infrastructure to adjust these levels if an agreement on revised funding levels is reached to fully meet defense needs.” It is unclear if the Senate budget will get a vote by the full chamber. A resolution is a plan through which Congress sets certain spending and taxation rules for itself; it does not go to the President for his signature and does not become law. Getting a budget resolution passed by both chambers of Congress is challenging – even more so in years when the two chambers of Congress are controlled by different parties.

Reports are that divides even among Democrats on tax increases, spending levels, and big issues like climate change and health care led House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) to make the decision to abandon efforts to move forward with a budget proposal in that chamber. Instead, the House Budget Committee on April 3 approved (19-17) legislation that would raise discretionary (annually-appropriated) spending caps for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. According to CQ, the plan would raise the FY20 nondefense spending cap to $631 billion, up $34 billion over FY19 levels, and the defense cap to $664 billion, $17 billion over FY19 levels. Both caps would increase further in FY21. The House Budget Committee’s Investing for the People Act also includes up to $69 billion in spending outside the caps for defense spending through the controversial Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, and up to $8 billion for OCO nondefense spending outside the caps during both years (both these figures are unchanged from current year OCO spending). In addition, $7.5 billion in funding for the 2020 decennial Census is placed outside the cap for nondefense discretionary spending. All of the plan’s supporters were Democrats; 14 Republicans and three Democrats opposed the measure.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, without a new deal to raise tight spending caps and automatic cuts (also known as sequestration) put in place by the 2011 Budget Control Act, non-defense discretionary programs would be cut by $55 billion and defense by $71 billion in FY20, compared to FY19 levels. Democrats have been firm in their position that the principle of parity must be maintained in spending; that is, any additional money given to defense programs should be matched by money for nondefense programs. The House proposal adheres to parity by increasing funding for defense and nondefense programs by $88 billion above the capped levels in FY20 and $90 billion above the caps in FY21.

New analysis from CHN shows the importance of lifting the spending caps in order to prevent serious losses in human needs programs. CHN’s work showed that out of 184 programs tracked, 131 of the programs, or 71 percent, lost ground since FY 2010. Fifty-four programs were cut by 25 percent or more. You can download CHN’s funding analysis and appropriations tables here. Without a spending deal in place, staying at the very low capped levels would mean that far fewer people would be served by the 184 human needs programs CHN looked at. President Trump reportedly remains opposed to lifting the spending caps.

Budget and Appropriations