CHN: Senate Approves First Spending Bill, House Budget Would Cut SNAP, House Pentagon Spending Move Angers Advocates
On May 12, the Senate passed the FY17 Energy-Water appropriations bill, the first spending measure to be passed by either chamber for the upcoming fiscal year. A contentious amendment held up the bill for weeks, but after the amendment was voted down on May 11, the bill was allowed to move forward on its own. With the Energy-Water bill cleared, the Senate is expected to take up two appropriations bills simultaneously this week, the Transportation–Housing and Urban Development bill and the Military Construction–Veterans Affairs bill. Senate leadership hopes taking the two bills up together will allow for faster passage.
The Senate THUD bill includes $39.2 billion for HUD, an increase of $891 million over FY16. There are no major cuts, and funding is sufficient to renew existing housing choice vouchers, all project-based rental assistance contracts, and all contracts under the Housing for the Elderly program. The THUD bill also includes a series of initiatives to address lead-based paint hazards in HUD’s low-income housing units. For more information on the THUD bill, see the April 25 Human Needs Report and this chart from the National Low Income Housing Coalition that compares funding levels in the Senate THUD bill, the FY16 enacted levels, and President Obama’s budget request.
A $1.1 billion emergency supplemental spending package to fight the Zika virus emerged from the Senate on May 12, with the hopes of attaching it to the THUD appropriations bill. The Senate is expected to vote on this supplemental, which does not require offsetting cuts, as an amendment this week. Two other Zika proposals are also expected to be voted on in the Senate as early as May 17, including one that would provide the full $1.9 billion requested by President Obama and another that would provide $1.1 billion but would include $1.2 billion in offsetting cuts, with the money coming from the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund. The House is also expected to vote on a Zika proposal that would provide $622 million for the current fiscal year would require offsets to pay for it.
House leaders are still trying to pass a budget, this time by pairing previously-proposed cuts to mandatory programs (those not subject to the annual appropriations process) with the budget in an effort to satisfy more conservative Republicans. In this latest scenario, the House budget would adhere to the $1.07 trillion topline number agreed to last fall, but the same bill would also include cuts that previously passed the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. These cuts include eliminating the $1.7 billion Social Services Block Grant, denying the Child Tax Credit to millions of children (mostly citizens) in low-income working immigrant families, eliminating the Prevention and Public Health Fund created under the Affordable Care Act, reducing Medicaid reimbursements to states for people in prison, and cutting federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. It was also revealed on May 12 that House Republicans want to cut $23.6 billion over 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as part of this package. All told, these proposals would cut more than $170 billion over a decade. Advocates have condemned both the House budget resolution and the additional cuts. Still, even with the additional proposed cuts in the bill text, it’s uncertain if Republicans have enough support to pass the measure, which would need to pass the Senate and be signed by President Obama to take effect. While it appeared last week that the budget might come to the House floor this week, that timing is now uncertain.
Even if Representatives don’t pass a budget, the House is now able to take up appropriations bills on the floor. Their failure to pass a FY17 budget or other agreement that would lock in place topline spending numbers for this fiscal year prohibited them from taking up appropriations bills before May 15. The House is expected to first take up the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs appropriations bill as early as this week. But disputes in the House over spending limits may continue to mean the future of spending bills is uncertain, and House leaders haven’t yet agreed to spending limits for the 12 appropriations subcommittees, known as 302(b) allocations. House Democrats may choose to vote against any spending bills brought to the floor first if it looks like additional spending included in them will drain domestic funding and leave little left over for the bills that cover programs for low-income people that may come later.
In a move advocates strongly oppose, the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on May 11 approved a FY17 bill that would take nearly $16 billion from the Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account for weapons programs and other uses that would normally come out of the Pentagon’s base budget. This move would allow the Pentagon to increase its spending without technically violating the imposed spending caps, and it would also mean that overseas operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan (the primary purpose for OCO) would only be funded through April 2017 rather than through the entire fiscal year. The full House Appropriations Committee expected to take up the bill this week. The House Armed Services Committee approved a similar move in the FY17 defense authorization bill in April. Advocates like those at the National Priorities Project continue to point out that excessive Pentagon spending takes money away from human needs programs that could be funded instead.
Several other appropriations bills are expected to be taken up in the House or Senate Appropriations Committee or subcommittees this week as well.