CHN: Spending Work Continues in the House without Agreement on FY20 Spending Caps

The House Appropriations Committee on May 8 approved (30-22, along party lines) top-line spending limits for the subcommittees responsible for its 12 FY20 spending bills, known as 302(b) allocations. Totaling $1.295 trillion in discretionary (annually-appropriated) funding, the allocations represent enough to maintain existing program levels and in some cases to serve more people. In maintaining programs, for example, the National Low Income Housing Coalition said the 6.6 percent increase over FY19 funding for the FY20 Transportation-Housing and Urban Development spending bill should be adequate to “fully renew housing vouchers and project-based rental assistance contracts.” Funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) in the FY20 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bill is increased by $2.4 billion to a total of $7.7 billion, a 45 percent increase over FY19 levels without adjusting for inflation. This builds on a substantial increase in CCDBG funding provided in FY18, though child care resources would still remain short of what is needed to assist all eligible children. The 302(b) subcommittee allocations are here. House Appropriations subcommittees had already begun writing and passing bills based on these limits.

These levels are not binding in the Senate, however, and a new bipartisan deal to raise tight spending caps put in place by the 2011 Budget Control Act still needs to be reached with the Senate and signed by the President, if Congress is to avoid the deep cuts required by the 2011 law. Without legislation to lift the caps, 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) previously said he would not agree to the House spending limits and suggested that in the absence of an agreement to lift the caps, his Committee would write spending bills to the lower numbers required by existing law. The latest report is that the Senate Appropriations Committee could begin taking up its own versions of FY20 spending bills as early as June, even if an agreement between the House, the Senate, and the White House on spending limits hasn’t been reached by then. President Trump’s FY20 budget retained the spending caps, but in order to increase military spending proposed a huge increase in the uncapped Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, from $69 billion to $165 billion. Now reports are that the Administration would prefer a year-long stop-gap spending measure (known as a Continuing Resolution, or CR) for FY20, which would provide level funding from FY19. However, advocates contend that, because of a need for increased funding for the 2020 Census, veterans’ health care, and other programs, flat funding would actually result in a roughly $20 billion loss for other human needs programs.

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.

The full House Appropriations Committee also passed on May 8 (30-23, along party lines) its FY20 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bill. The “Labor-H” bill provides $189.9 billion for these departments, up $11.8 billion or 6 percent over FY19 and up $48 billion over President Trump’s FY20 budget request. Including unused funds in the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the bill would spend $204 billion in total. Advocates were pleased that the proposed increase for this spending bill is proportional to the total nondefense discretionary spending increased proposed by House leaders, which has not always been the case in past years. Advocates were also pleased that the proposal contains increases for numerous important human needs programs. A summary of the Labor-H bill from House Democratic appropriators can be found here. The full text of the bill can be found here. For more information on parts of the bill important to human needs advocates, see the May 6 Human Needs Report. Even with the increases, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that total funding for all programs covered in the Labor-H bill would be just 3 percent above what it was a decade ago in inflation-adjusted terms.

Three other FY20 spending bills have been approved by the full House Appropriations Committee to date: State and Foreign Operations; Legislative Branch; and Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs.

Several other FY20 spending bills have passed out of the respective House Appropriations Subcommittees. Among them is the FY20 Defense spending bill, which would prohibit the Trump Administration from using more Pentagon money for construction of a wall along the U.S. southern border, but it would also approve funding for 12 more of the problem-plagued F-35 fighter jets than the Pentagon requested. The FY20 Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill, which was passed by its subcommittee on May 17, contains $8.45 billion for the Census Bureau (including $7.5 billion for the 2020 Decennial Census), and contains an additional $109.6 million to hire additional immigration judge teams to address the immigration case backlog. It would also provide $550 million for the Legal Services Corporation, an increase of $135 million above fiscal year 2019, to help increase the availability of civil legal assistance for low-income people with housing, domestic violence, employment, consumer, or other legal trouble; President Trump’s budget would have eliminated this program. The bill also includes a provision that would prevent the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census; it is a symbolic move, as the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the question in June, before the appropriations bill will be enacted.

Budget and Appropriations