Appropriations Off to a Quick Start
George C. Crawford
One of the keys to last year's appropriations deal was setting the discretionary appropriations caps for the upcoming fiscal year (FY2015). The Senate has said that it will not consider a budget resolution this year as the spending limits set forth in the Omnibus bill set those caps. The House passed a budget resolution that kept to the overall spending total of $1.014 trillion. The $1.014 trillion in discretionary spending will be divided between defense ($521 billion) and nondefense ($492 billion).
So sure of the funding levels was the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee (Hal Rogers R-KY) that his committee approved the first two appropriations bills prior to the Budget Committee formally filing the discretionary appropriation allocation with the House. Indeed, the Committee has not yet adopted its subcommittee allocations for the remaining ten bills and is scheduled to do so on May 8.
The House Chairman is hopeful that the Committee will approve all twelve appropriations bills prior to the August recess. Prospects for passage of all twelve bills, however, are dim. Instead, the House will attempt to pass as many bills as possible, but it is highly unlikely that there will be sufficient support to pass highly contentious bills, such as Labor, HHS. Compounding the problem is that the early bills (e.g. Military Construction, Veterans, Commerce Justice) are seeing plus ups in funding levels that must be paid for with cuts in other bills. The Transportation, Housing bill unveiled this week reduces funding for DOT by $727 million and HUD by $769 million. Another likely source of the funding in the House is the Labor, HHS bill. In addition to funding level disputes, controversial policy riders will make their way onto several bills, imperiling their prospects for passage.
A likely scenario has all twelve appropriation bills being reported by the House Appropriations Committee, with many, but not all, seeing Floor consideration. While the Senate will follow suit, the number of bills that will be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee is uncertain. The most optimistic observers feel that up to four individual bills may be presented to the President for signature. The Department of Defense appropriations bill will probably be the last bill considered by the full House and held as the vehicle to carry the balance of the appropriations bills that aren't signed into law.
Several key factors that will impact how much appropriations work will get done are the subcommittee allocations, the calendar and the elections. While some of the bills being considered early in the process are seeing increases from last year's funding levels easing the way for passage, those increases will make it difficult to pass other bills that will necessarily see funding reductions. The work of reconciling those bills will be made more difficult as there is no agreement between the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on Subcommittee Allocations (302b allocations). A second factor imperiling the success of considering a significant number of bills is the short calendar. There are only 48 voting days slated before the beginning of the new fiscal year—making the prospects of completing more than a handful of appropriations bills highly unlikely and the adoption of a continuing resolution a certainty. Lastly, the tight fiscal constraints and controversial policy riders will keep some of the bills off the floor as members campaign for reelection. Many members will not want to consider appropriations bills that contain funding levels or policy riders that can be easily transformed into campaign issues.
At the end of the day, look to see a handful of bills make it through the process, a continuing resolution put into place that will carry funding for the government past the election and another omnibus appropriation bill taken up in a lame duck session.