CHN: House Agrees to Funding Limit; Begins Work on Appropriations Bills

After months of deadlock, the House has agreed to trim $7 billion from the President’s FY 2011 budget request for overall discretionary spending of annually appropriated programs.  The Administration’s budget proposes an aggregate freeze in domestic non-military and non-security spending for three years.  This is not an across-the-board freeze, so while some programs are cut in FY 2011, the budget does make investments in human needs programs including education, job training, child care and child nutrition.  The House adopted its overall FY 2011 domestic spending limit of $1.121 trillion on July 1 by a vote of 215-210 as part of the rule for the FY 2010 war supplemental funding bill (H.R. 4899; Seearticle on the supplemental bill elsewhere in this Human Needs Report.)  In April, the Senate Budget Committee approved a resolution (S Con Res 60) that would provide $3 billion less than the Administration recommends for FY 2011.
The overall funding level for discretionary programs is typically set in a 5-year budget resolution that indicates the priorities of the majority party.  The party in the minority often votes unanimously against the budget.  This year the House was unable to agree on a multi-year budget because some Members were concerned about casting votes for five years of deficit spending (although the deficit is substantially reduced over time in the President’s plan).  Pressure to reduce spending came from the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition and newer members of the Democratic caucus concerned that failure to cut spending below the President’s request would be used against them in their reelection efforts.  Progressives opposed cutting below the President’s freeze level.  Finally, instead of passing a multi-year resolution, the House passed a one-year ‘budget enforcement’ resolution that sets the spending limit for discretionary programs.  The resolution also aligns House rules with pay-as-you-go provisions previously agreed to, and instructs committee chairmen to eliminate waste and duplication in programs in their jurisdictions.

The House Appropriations Committee, anticipating the overall spending limit in the budget enforcement resolution, began consideration of the 12 individual appropriations bills that will fund discretionary programs on June 24.  Six of the appropriations subcommittees have completed work on their bills. The subcommittee that funds programs in HUD provides overall funding of $520 million over FY 2010 and $1 billion more than the Administration’s request.  Much of this increase is needed to keep pace with the annual increased costs associated with the rental voucher assistance program.  Advocates are assessing whether the $885 million increase will fund all of the vouchers whose costs climb as rents increase.  The House bill restores cuts in the Administration’s budget for elderly and disabled housing, allowing for new construction in those programs.  The Public housing Capital Fund receives $2.5 billion in the subcommittee bill, $455 million more than the Administration provides.  Both the subcommittee’s and the Administration’s budgets acknowledge increases in family homelessness by adding $190 million to homeless assistance grants.

In other action, the Agriculture Subcommittee cut $476 million from the Administration’s request for the Supplemental Nutrition Program (WIC).  The $7.127 billion level is $125 million below the FY 2010 level, and $476 million below the Administration’s request.  The subcommittee justified the cut by asserting that food costs did not increase as much as predicted and participation has decreased.

As stated earlier, the overall funding level for the House appropriations bill is $7 billion less than the Administration’s request.  However, the difference is actually $15 billion because the President proposes to convert Pell grants for college students and a portion of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) into mandatory programs, freeing up space within the discretionary total for other programs.  Congress plans to continue funding them as discretionary programs, so these programs must compete with all the other priorities within the discretionary total.  (See the article on efforts to fund Pell grants through emergency appropriations elsewhere in this Human Needs Report.)

In the absence of passing a budget resolution, the Senate will also likely adopt a one-year budget enforcement resolution and begin consideration of appropriations bills after the July 4 recess.  At some point the House and Senate will need to reconcile the $4 billion difference in their overall discretionary funding levels.  It is unclear how many of the bills will reach the floor of the House and Senate prior to the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1.   To fund federal programs in the new year, Congress will need to pass a ‘continuing resolution’ until permanent funding levels for FY 2011 are set, likely in an omnibus appropriations bill during a lame duck session of Congress after the November elections.

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