CHN: House and Senate Appropriators Set FY 2015 Subcommittee Spending Levels; Mikulski Ekes Out a Few More Domestic Dollars Within Tight Caps

Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have allocated the total funding approved by Congress for FY 2015 appropriations among their 12 subcommittees.  Both Committees are living within the appropriations caps set by Congress in 2013, when it set totals for FYs 2014 and 2015.  The nearly $1.014 trillion for FY 2015 appropriations is a tight cap, only $1.4 billion more than spending this year.  If the current spending level had been adjusted for inflation, FY 2015 spending would have risen nearly $19 billion.
Within this tight cap, there was not a lot of room for major differences.  (See a table showing all the subcommittee amounts, called the 302(b) allocations, with comparisons to FY 2010.)  Chairwoman Mikulski (D-MD) and her Senate committee managed to put $1.1 billion more in Labor-HHS-Education than the House appropriators did.  The Senate also added $2.4 billion more to Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (HUD) than Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) and his committee provided.  The Senate appropriators provided $1.35 billion less to the Defense subcommittee than the House did.

Congress allows itself a means of getting around these caps that primarily benefits the Pentagon.  In addition to $1.014 trillion for appropriations, Congress has been approving Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding.  Intended to support the war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, defense appropriators who have not wanted to live within the spending caps for their regular programs have managed to slip some non-war-related spending into OCO.  In FY 2014, OCO spending was nearly $92 billion, and perhaps one-third of that was not for funding directly related to Afghanistan or Iraq operations.  For FY 2015, the House estimates OCO funding will be $85.3 billion.  The Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet released its total for OCO funding.

Until the Senate OCO estimate is made public, analysts cannot tell whether its lower amount for Defense is made up by shifting more spending into Overseas Contingency Operations.  Senate appropriators are reported to have shifted as much as $2.7 billion out of State-Foreign Operations to OCO.  The Senate allocation for this subcommittee is $2.7 billion lower than the House provided.  By making this shift, Senate appropriators freed up money that can be used for domestic programs.  This maneuver, plus some shifting of mandatory funding (not subject to annual appropriations), helped Chairwoman Mikulski and her majority in the Committee to spend more than the House did for the key domestic priorities in Labor-HHS-Education and Transportation-HUD.

These shifts did not sit well with Republican appropriators, who departed from the bipartisan approach that has marked appropriations decisions in the Senate by voting against the allocations.  They were adopted on a party line vote of 16-14 in the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 22.

Allocating money among the subcommittees is a necessary step so each can work out detailed program-by-program spending recommendations.  So far, House Appropriations Subcommittees for Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, Legislative Branch, Military Construction-VA, and Transportation-HUD have reported out bills, with Legislative Branch and Military Construction-VA so far having been passed by the full House.  The Senate Subcommittees for Agriculture and Military Construction-VA have reported out their bills.

The constraints on appropriations are apparent when comparing subcommittee totals to the figures approved in FY 2010.  As CHN’s appropriations table shows, in FY 2010, Agriculture was funded at $23.3 billion, and would decline to $20.6 billion under the Senate allocation for FY 2015.  In FY 2010, Labor-HHS-Education was funded at $163.6 billion.  The Senate provides $156.8 billion for FY 2015.  Transportation-HUD declines over the same period from $67.9 billion to $54.4 billion in the Senate, or $52 billion in the House.

The extra funding the Senate will provide to Housing and Urban Development programs is urgently needed.  The House appropriations bill for FY 2015 does not include enough funding for rental housing vouchers.  Its funding level would continue the loss of 70,000 rental vouchers that resulted from sequestration cuts in FY 2013, and would cut other housing and homelessness programs.  (For more information, see the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ House HUD Bill Would Cut Assistance to Low-Income Renters.)

(See the CHN table showing all the subcommittee amounts, called the 302(b) allocations, with comparisons to FY 2010.)

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