Appropriators Have Work To Do

Now that Congress and the White House have agreed on the FY 2020 top line numbers for defense and non-defense discretionary spending, both the House and Senate need to adjust the numbers they have put forth as their working caps.

The House did not pass a budget resolution and instead passed a deeming resolution (H.J.Res. 293) in April that functions in much the same way with respect to setting the top-line numbers for appropriations. During debate on the deeming resolution, Representative James Morelle (D-NY) explained the caps put forth by Democrats:

In fiscal year 2020, defense spending would be capped at $664 billion, with nondefense discretionary spending capped at $631 billion. The Investing for the People Act (H.R. 2021) would also provide up to $8 billion, annually, for nondefense overseas contingency operations, OCO, activities that do not count against the spending caps, while limiting OCO designation of defense spending in 2020 and 2021 to no more than the fiscal year 2019 level of $69 billion dollars.

In my this post, I detailed the new spending caps under the as the “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019” (P.L. 116-37) raised the caps

  FY 2020 FY 2021
Defense (aka Security) $666.5 billion $671.5 billion
Non-Defense (aka non-security) $621.5 billion $626.5 billion

For FY 2020, House Democrats will need to trim roughly $10 billion from the non-defense side of appropriations and slightly boost for the defense side. The House Appropriations Committee will need to trim the non-defense funds from the bills with non-defense funding, and it is not immediately clear what their approach will be. Is an across-the-board reduction equitable? Or should the committee eliminate funds based on need and priorities? I’d say it is likely to be the latter approach, but the process for how the House does this is not clear beyond the Appropriations Committee reporting a new 302(b) allocation. Will the Appropriations Committee essentially draft new bills and hold them until the Senate has finished work on their bills all the while negotiating on final numbers for programs? This seems like the likeliest outcome although it is possible the House could bring new bills to the floor, but I suspect they wouldn’t do so unless there was some leverage to be gained against or pressure exerted on the Senate.

In the other body, appropriators are more or less working from a blank slate as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) prevailed upon Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) to not begin the appropriations process until agreement had been reached on top-line numbers. Undoubtedly, the committee has bill language and report language that has been negotiated on; all that was missing was the top-line funding numbers. Having said that, it didn’t exactly take a crystal ball to project a reasonable range of top-line funding numbers and work from those. I’m assuming this is, in fact, what happened, and so the committee may hit the ground running next month.

While the Senate did not pass a budget resolution as McConnell undoubtedly wanted to protect those Senate Republicans up for reelection from uncomfortable votes, the Senate Budget Committee did mark up a budget resolution. In S.Con.Res. 12, the Senate Budget Committee set the following caps in FY 2020: $576 billion for defense (plus the majority of $67 billion in OCO funds) and $542 billion for non-defense. Consequently, the Senate has just gained a huge amount of breathing room on both sides of the discretionary divide, and yet, because the Senate Appropriations Committee has not marked up any bills, the process of effecting the new caps will be somewhat easier. In any event, the nominal, not-real numbers the Senate started with will be adjusted upwards by $90 billion on the defense side of the ledger and $79 billion for non-defense.

Opening the aperture on appropriations reveals an uncertain view. Sure, we have top-line numbers, but will Fox News rile up the President after Republicans and Democrats have reached agreement on full-year appropriations for FY 2020. However, more immediately, it seems unlikely we will have all 12 bills enacted before the end of FY 2019 on September 30 and has been common practice there will almost certainly be a continuing resolution (CR) for some portion of the federal government through December. It’s just a question of which agencies will have FY 2020 appropriations in place and which will be operating under a CR, which does cause some problems. In any event, it will quite the ride as always.

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