CHN: House Begins Work on Spending Bills without Agreement on FY20 Spending Caps

Several House Appropriations subcommittees took up spending bills covering their areas of jurisdiction the week of April 29, even as an agreement between the House and Senate on FY20 top-line spending limits has yet to be reached.

As reported in the April 9 Human Needs Report, the Senate Budget Committee on March 28 adopted (11-9) a five-year budget resolution along party lines that adheres to the draconian 2011 Budget Control Act spending caps. 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. Understanding this, House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth (D-KY) decided to skip the budget process and instead, on April 3, his committee approved (19-17) legislation that would raise discretionary (annually-appropriated) spending caps for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. The bill 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. Additional funds outside the caps would be provided for the 2020 Census, other defense operations, and other purposes.

However, disagreements among Democrats meant this bill was not brought to the floor. Instead, the House adopted (219-201) a “deeming resolution,” essentially an informal agreement which set the FY20 top-line limit on discretionary spending at $1.295 trillion. A deeming resolution allows appropriators to move forward with drafting spending bills absent a more-formal budget resolution in place. The full House Appropriations Committee is set to allocate the $1.295 trillion across all 12 appropriations subcommittees (known as 302(b) allocations) on May 8.

These levels are not binding in the Senate, however, and a new bipartisan deal to raise tight spending caps and automatic cuts (also known as sequestration) put in place by the 2011 Budget Control Act still needs to be reached with the Senate. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, without a new caps deal, non-defense discretionary programs would be cut by $55 billion and defense by $71 billion in FY20, compared to FY19 levels.

Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) has said he will not agree to the House spending limits and he will wait to see if an agreement on spending limits can be reached before his committee takes up its own versions of FY20 spending bills. President Trump reportedly remains opposed to lifting the spending caps.

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 between FY 2010 and FY 2019. Without changing the law to lift next year’s low spending caps, the cuts in spending would mean that far fewer people would be served by the 184 human needs programs CHN looked at.

Budget and Appropriations