Unusual Appropriations

Mark Harkins | May 20, 2016

The budget process created in 1974 put into place a mechanism to limit the power of appropriators and try to slow down spending growth.  By having either a Budget Resolution put a cap on discretionary spending or, when no Resolution is agreed to, having the Appropriations Committee put in place (or “deem”) a cap, the House and/or Senate are bound to a SPECIFIC top line spending amount which is defined at the BEGINNING of the process.

However, yesterday, the House passed an appropriations bill on the House floor without an agreed to Budget Resolution OR a 302(a) deeming resolution from the House Appropriations Committee.  This is the first time since the modern budget process was established that neither was put in place before an appropriations bill was passed in the House cialis aus spanien.

While this is noteworthy, it is somewhat irrelevant since the Congress has been doing apppropriations through two-year agreements since the Budget Control Act and the reinstitution of sequestration in 2011.  Obama and congressional leaders reached a deal in 2013 to relieve sequestration in FY14 and FY15.  They reached another deal last December to relieve sequestration in FY16 (this year) and FY17, which the House started to consider today.  See pages 6 and 13 of THIS Congressional Research Service report to better understand the numbers.

But it does highlight a problem that the House Republican leadership cannot seem to solve: the House can’t agree on an overall discretionary spending number, or 302(a) allocation! This is due to the fact that a segment of the Republican majority, loosely the Freedom Caucus, did not agree to last year’s deal nor do they feel bound to it.  They represent enough votes in the Republican conference to tie the process in knots.

Normal process dictates that the House and Senate would pass budget resolutions and agree to a final conferenced budget resolution that provides the 302(a) guidance to the Appropriations Committees. Then each chamber decides how to divvy up the big number into twelve smaller, 302(b), allocations for each of the appropriations subcommittees.  The 302(b) numbers in the Senate do NOT have to equal the ones in the House at this point, but the 302(a) should.

The Senate is proceeding normally using the 302(a) number agreed to last year ($1.07 trillion) and has divided it up among its subcommittees (S. Rpt. 114-257).  The House, however, has a problem.  Because the Freedom Caucus faction will not agree to the $1.07 trillion number, the House Appropriations Committee does not have a 302(a) number and therefore cannot create the twelve 302(b) allocations for each subcommittee.  If there is no number, members could theoretically offer amendments making each bill as big as they want.  The 302(b) allocation acts as a ceiling on the size of EACH individual bill.  By dividing the number up at the beginning, Members have a sense of what the subcommittee tradeoffs are.  If we give this much to Transportation, we will only have this much for Homeland Security.

Why is this happening in such a convoluted fashion?  If the House Appropriations Committee actually published all twelve subcommittee numbers, somebody could add them all up.  If the total was the $1.07 trillion number, the Freedom Caucus faction would vote all the bills down, or at a minimum there would be huge fights among House Republicans.  If the number is closer to the one the faction prefers, $1.04 trillion, the pain would have to be spread across at least the 11 non-defense bills causing other House Republicans to make difficult votes on infrastructure and social programs.  In addition, it wouldn’t match the Senate number and would lead Senate Democrats to block the process in that Chamber.  The last time we had a non-matching 302(a) problem was for FY14 and it resulted in a three-week government shutdown.

There is no obvious way out of this box.  The final numbers in the House are going to have to be negotiated with the Senate at some point.  Even the idea of a Continuing Resolution is going to have to fund the operations of the government either closer to $1.07 trillion or $1.04 trillion with the same intra-party issues.  Continuing the government at the FY16 current levels would be about $1.066 trillion.

Speaker Ryan is doing an excellent job of ignoring this reality for now, but come September, the piper will either be paid or the rats will take over.

Mark Harkins is a Senior Fellow at the Government Affairs Institute


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Categories: Budget and Appropriations, Revise & Extend, Updates