CHN: Senate and House Move Forward with Spending Bills Despite Uncertainty around House Budget

Despite the lack of a Congressional budget resolution, the Senate is moving forward with work on FY17 spending bills. Senate leaders have agreed to adhere to the spending limit for discretionary programs (those subject to the annual appropriations process) set by the Bipartisan Budget Act Congress passed last fall. This gives Senate appropriators a topline number of $1.07 trillion to work with, which includes $551.1 billion for defense programs and $518.5 billion for non-defense programs. This Thursday, April 14, the Senate Appropriations Committee will disclose how much money each of the 12 subcommittees will be allowed to spend on the programs in its jurisdiction, known as 302(b) allocations. While the non-defense spending limit for FY17 is the exact same as FY16 levels, rising costs in some areas (like veterans’ health care) mean the subcommittee allocations are likely to change to some extent from the current year’s allocations. The Senate Appropriations Committee is also expected to take up two FY17 spending bills on the 14th – the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill and the Energy and Water Appropriations bill – following the mark up of these bills in the respective Senate Appropriations subcommittees on April 13.
Returning tomorrow after a 2-plus week recess, it’s still unclear whether House Republican leaders have enough votes from the more conservative members of the party to pass the budget blueprint approved by the House Budget Committee on March 16. That budget plan also adhered to the $1.07 trillion topline number agreed to last fall, but it makes at least $3.5 trillion in cuts over the next decade to programs that serve low-income and vulnerable people, including $449 billion in cuts to Medicare and $1 trillion in cuts to Medicaid. Overall, the plan would get 62 percent of its budget cuts from low-income programs even though they account for just 28 percent of total non-defense program spending. It also turns SNAP/food stamps into a block grant. Advocates condemned the House budget resolution.

In an attempt to garner enough support from conservatives for the resolution, House Republican leaders also released plans in March to cut certain mandatory programs (those not subject to the annual appropriations process). The House Ways and Means Committee passed plans that would cut $98 billion over 10 years by eliminating the $1.7 billion Social Services Block Grant (H.R. 4724), denying the Child Tax Credit to millions of children (mostly citizens) in low-income working immigrant families (H.R. 4722), and ending limits on how much can be recovered if people getting insurance subsidies through the Affordable Care Act receive too much based on their actual income (H.R. 4723). In addition, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed a plan to eliminate the Prevention and Public Health Fund created under the Affordable Care Act, reduce Medicaid reimbursements to states for people in prison, and cut federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. These proposals would cut $25 billion over 10 years.

Despite having called for these cuts, many conservative members of the House are now saying they still won’t support a budget resolution at the $1.07 trillion number without assurance that the mandatory cuts packages would pass as well. This leaves House leaders with a few options: they could try to pass a budget at the lower $1.04 trillion limit that conservatives are calling for, but that would make it far harder to enact appropriations bills, an outcome House and Senate leaders want to avoid. Alternatively, they can try to satisfy rebellious right wing members that mandatory cuts have a better chance of passing. A House Rules Subcommittee is meeting this Thursday to consider a measure that would allow appropriators to cut mandatory spending, which is otherwise not part of their jurisdiction. They may also consider a measure to halt spending on programs whose authorization has lapsed because of Congressional inaction, which could affect many human needs programs.

Another approach might be to fence off $30 billion in discretionary spending until the mandatory cuts package is passed ($30 billion is the amount the mandatory cuts package would cut over two years; its total price over 10 years is more than four times that amount). As the appropriations bill that covers low-income programs is often the last to be dealt with, this scenario is not good for programs advocates care about. In short, how the budget and appropriations process will play out in the House remains to be seen.

Despite the uncertainty, however, House appropriators are moving forward with marking up FY17 spending bills this week, too. The full House Appropriations Committee will meet on Wednesday, April 13 and unveil its 302(b) allocations for subcommittees and will vote on the FY17 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill. The FY17 Energy and Water Appropriations bill and the Agriculture Appropriations bill will also be taken up by those respective subcommittees on the 13th.

The Coalition on Human Needs has endorsed The Congressional Progressive Caucus’ budget proposal, “The People’s Budget,” as noted in this Huffington Post opinion piece. Many advocates support this proposal for its investments in programs that help lift low-income Americans out of poverty and to create millions of jobs.

For more information on all things budget, see our FY17 budget resource page.

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