CHN: House Begins to Move FY21 Spending Bills

The Fiscal Year 2021 spending process was in full swing in the House last week. The 12 House Appropriations Subcommittees passed the FY21 spending bills in their jurisdiction the week of July 6, and the full committee passed five of these bills in the same week (select details of these bills are below).

On July 9, the House Appropriations Committee also approved (29-21, along party lines) the topline spending limit for each of the 12 required spending bills, known as 302(b) allocations. The allocations for the 12 subcommittees total $1.298 trillion in discretionary (or annually-appropriated) funding. According to CQ, while the bill covering the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education would technically see a 0.1 percent cut from FY20 enacted levels, including unused funds from the Children’s Health Insurance Program would provide about $2.4 billion or 1 percent more for these programs over the current year. In addition, the Labor-HHS-Education bill includes $24.425 billion in uncapped emergency funding for public health needs related to the coronavirus and for a Department of Labor contingency fund to help states cope with higher unemployment insurance workloads. The bill covering the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development would see a $1.65 billion or 2.2 percent increase over the current year. The House 302(b) levels are not binding in the Senate.

Advocates were pleased to see that the spending bills put forth by House Democrats also include $247 billion in emergency funding that would allow for additional spending above and beyond of the 302(b) allocations, as emergency funding does not count toward the spending caps. This includes $12.5 billion to meet the rising costs of veterans’ health care, money to respond to the pandemic and resulting economic recession, and more. For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development would get $49 billion in emergency funds for low-income housing projects and direct rental assistance; the Federal Communications Commission would get $61 billion in emergency funding to expand broadband access and replace telecommunications equipment. Republicans on the committee objected to the inclusion of this level of emergency spending.

Per a bipartisan budget deal Congress passed last July that set topline spending caps, Congress will have $10 billion, or 0.08 percent, more in FY21 base discretionary dollars to work with than it did in FY20; $5 billion more for defense and $5 billion more for nondefense programs. This total does not include funding deemed emergency spending or war funding that Congress approves outside of the caps. Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, advocates were concerned that the $5 billion increase for nondefense programs will be entirely consumed by rising costs of health care for veterans, leading to flat funding or even cuts in other human needs programs.

As mentioned above, the full House Appropriations Committee passed five of the 12 spending bills last week: Agriculture; Military Construction-Veterans Affairs; Interior-Environment; Legislative Branch; and State-Foreign Operations. Of note in these bills:

The Agriculture spending bill, which includes funding for many nutrition programs including SNAP/food stamps, school breakfast and lunch programs, the WIC program and more, provides $23.98 billion in discretionary funding, an increase of $487 million or 2.1 percent above the FY 2020 enacted level. In total, the bill allows for $153 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding, an increase of $331 million above the FY 2020 enacted level. The bill includes language to block two rules proposed by the Trump Administration that would take away or reduce SNAP benefits for hundreds of thousands of people in need. Also included is $1.1 billion for expanding rural broadband to give rural school children the ability to get online for school. For a full analysis of the nutrition provisions of the bill, including how they compare to FY20 spending levels and relate to nutrition pieces of the coronavirus response bills already passed by Congress, see this piece from the Food Research & Action Center and this piece from the National WIC Association.

The Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill includes $12.5 billion in emergency spending for veterans’  health care and $350 million in the uncapped Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, both outside of the spending caps. The bill would bar President Trump from diverting military construction funds to the border wall and would also block military construction funds from going to installations named after Confederate officers unless the names are first changed.

The Interior-Environment bill includes funding for programs within the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other related agencies, including the Indian Health Service. The bill includes $36.76 billion in regular appropriations, an increase of $771 million above the FY 2020 enacted level and $5.11 billion over the President’s 2021 request, rejecting the White House’s proposed cuts to the EPA. Additionally, the bill includes $15 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations for investments in critical infrastructure, such as $1.5 billion for the Indian Health Service to construct health care facilities, $500 million for the Bureau of Indian Education for school construction needs, and $10.2 billion for Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds.

The Legislative Branch bill includes language to permit Dreamers with work authorization under the DACA program to work for Congress and other Legislative Branch agencies. It also includes language directing the removal of statues and busts in the U.S. Capitol of figures who participated in the Confederacy and statues of four white supremacists.

The State-Foreign Operations bill includes more than $10 billion in emergency funding for global coronavirus preparedness, response, and relief and also includes $8 billion in “war on terror” funding in the uncapped OCO account, both outside of the spending caps.

The stated goal is to have the other seven spending bills passed by the full House Appropriations Committee by July 16. To that end, the full Appropriations Committee will take up the Labor-HHS-Education and Energy-Water bills on Monday, July 13, and will consider Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-HUD bills on Tuesday, July 14. The full House is expected to take up and vote on the bills during the last two weeks of July, with the goal being to pass all or most of the 12 bills before lawmakers begin the August recess. The House spending bills are expected to pass mainly along party lines.

Over in the Senate, appropriations work came to a standstill before things even really got going. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) and the committee’s top-ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT), failed to reach an agreement about the types of amendments that could be offered to the spending bills, putting an indefinite pause on spending work in the upper chamber. Similar to action in the House, Senate Democrats want to be able to offer amendments that would provide additional money for COVID-19 responses, as well as policies that address policing reform and other social justice issues; Sen. Shelby does not want to allow these types of amendments. It is highly unlikely that the Senate will take up the bills the House passes, either.

Most believe that an impasse on spending bills will lead to Congress being forced to pass a stop-gap spending bill, known as a Continuing Resolution or CR, to keep the government running once the new fiscal year begins on October 1. A CR would fund government programs at FY20 levels; Congress can include ‘anomalies,’ or adjustments to funding levels, for select programs if they can agree upon them. Many believe a CR will last until after the November elections; the outcome of the elections may determine whether FY21 spending bills are passed in the lame duck session in December or a CR is extended into January.

A Human Needs Report covering the remaining appropriations bills approved in full committee will be published on Monday, July 20.