CHN: FY18 Appropriations Process Underway; House to Vote on Security Spending Package this Week
Appropriations season is underway, but spending bills in the House may be doing nothing more than setting up a showdown this fall with the Senate.
To date, the House Appropriations Committee has passed all 12 spending bills. Floor action in the House is expected to start this week as the chamber takes up a package of four security-related FY18 appropriations bills. The “minibus” spending package consists of the Defense, Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction – Veterans Affairs spending bills. Late last week, House leaders inserted into the Defense bill $1.6 billion to begin construction of a border wall with Mexico. Passage of the minibus in the House is not certain, as some conservative members wanted the House to vote on a catchall omnibus package that would have combined all 12 spending bills.
Even if the minibus does pass the House, it is likely dead in the Senate, where spending bills require 60 votes for passage. The minibus package also exceeds caps on military spending by $72 billion. If it were enacted, funding for defense programs would be subject to automatic cuts (“sequestration”) to bring the level back down to the cap unless Congress voted to change current law. (The cap is set at $549 billion for defense discretionary – or annually appropriated – programs; the defense bills passed by the House Appropriations Committee total $621.5 billion). A bipartisan budget deal is needed to change the law; Democrats have been pushing for such a deal to lift the spending caps for non-defense programs, and unless one is reached, they could filibuster spending bills in the Senate. Without such a deal, sequestration cuts scheduled to go back into effect for FY18 would require a $5 billion cut below this year’s appropriations totals ($2 billion from defense and $3 billion from nondefense discretionary programs). To date, there are no reports that such a bipartisan deal is in the works, meaning the appropriations process could stall before it gets very far down the road.
Advocates found many things to object to in several of the House GOP spending bills. The bill that funds the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, for example, would provide $5 billion less than current levels for these critical departments. House GOP appropriators have proposed cutting $3.3 billion from the Pell Grant surplus fund. According to CQ, the bill passed along party lines (28-22) after an 11-hour markup. Almost all of the 40 amendments that were proposed were rejected, including amendments by Democrats to restore funding for apprenticeships and teacher training programs slashed and mental health and substance abuse treatment cut in the bill. Summaries of the bill are posted from the Republicans and from the Democrats. The National Education Association said, if enacted, the bill would “deprive millions of students of opportunities by eliminating funding that will result in nearly 8,500 educators losing their jobs, slashing funding for class-size reduction programs, cutting funding for after-school programs that serve the students most in need, and limiting or eliminating professional development opportunities for nearly 2.5 million educators.”
In the Transportation – Housing and Urban Development bill, which received an overall cut of more than $1.1 billion compared to current funding levels, Community Development Block Grants were cut by $100 million, the Choice Neighborhoods program was cut by $117.5 million, and the Public Housing Capital Fund was cut by $91.5 million below current levels. Summaries of the bill are posted from the Republicans and from the Democrats. The National Low Income Housing Coalition said the bill would “significantly reduce funding for critical affordable housing resources that provide lifelines for extremely low income seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, veterans, and other vulnerable populations.” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said the bill would fail to renew 140,000 Housing Choice Vouchers that are currently used by low-income seniors, people with disabilities and families with children to afford rent. The topline spending allocations (known as 302(b) allocations) for each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees covering the many different departments in the federal government were proposed by the House Appropriations Committee on July 11 and totaled more than $1.13 trillion, well above the $1.065 trillion discretionary spending cap set by law. All of the increases would be for defense spending. These funding limits are usually set by the budget process, but without an adopted budget in place, appropriators made up their own.
According to CQ, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved allocations for its 12 subcommittees on July 20, totaling $1.07 trillion. The funding limits proposed, the same as the FY17 levels, exceed the sequester caps in current law for FY18 ($551 billion for defense vs. a cap of $549 billion; $518.5 billion for nondefense vs. a cap of $515.4 billion). Under these allocations, the Labor-HHS-Education bill topline would receive a bump of $3.04 billion over current levels and the Transportation-HUD bill would be increased $2.4 billion over FY17 levels. Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee offered their alternative allocations the same day, which would increase both defense and nondefense spending by $54 billion above post-sequester caps; this equal increase is known as parity, a principle many Democrats have fought for over many years and one the Obama Administration was committed to. Only three spending bills have been passed by the relevant Senate appropriations subcommittees; all three have passed the full Senate Appropriations Committee as well. Many in D.C. are already predicting that a stopgap spending measure known as a Continuing Resolution will be needed to keep the government operating at current funding levels when the new fiscal year starts October 1.