Congress Behind on Budget and Appropriations Work, Again

Once again, Congress will not complete its work on the federal budget and spending on time.

August recess is the traditional end to the regular budget and appropriations process. By the time lawmakers return to Washington in September, if all 12 appropriations bills have not been signed by the President, then — realistically — time has run out to finalize work before the beginning of the new fiscal year on October 1.

Though the Senate has delayed the August recess by two weeks, Congress will still be nowhere near finalizing appropriations work for the upcoming fiscal year and is unlikely to meet its deadline. Not a single spending bill has been sent to the President’s desk.

At this point, a continuing resolution that would extend current spending levels into FY 2018 is nearly guaranteed.

Despite the futility of the timeline, appropriators in both the House and the Senate are working to move spending bills through committee in hopes of negotiating a larger spending package to be passed at a later date, typically in December, though this year final spending decisions weren’t made until May.

This budget uncertainty that has become the norm has a negative impact on communities and planners. Funding for programs like the Community Development Block Grant program and HOME Investment Partnerships isn’t awarded until a full-year bill is in place, leaving communities to wonder what their allocations will be for the year.

Several bills that impact planners are moving through the House Appropriations Committee now. Check back for information on how those bills will affect federal programs critical to planning.

Progress in the House

While the budget resolution process has hit a bit of a snag in the House Budget Committee, the appropriations process of drafting spending bills is still moving forward.

Though budget resolutions are non-binding political documents that are intended to guide the work of appropriators, who are tasked with writing the actual spending bills that set federal spending, budget resolutions do serve an important purpose of setting the overall funding level for the year.

House Budget Committee Chair Diane Black (R-Tenn.) introduced a draft resolution last month that cuts domestic, non-defense spending by $5 billion and increases defense spending by $72.5 billion. Republicans have been unable to come to an agreement on the resolution since it was floated in June.

In what has become an incredibly familiar narrative, defense hawks think spending on defense is too low and budget hawks think promised cuts to entitlements don’t go far enough. It’s unclear whether the majority can pull together enough concessions for both groups to create a passable resolution, though it is reported that Chair Black made progress on negotiations during the Fourth of July recess and is optimistic that a committee vote could take place this week.

Despite a lack of an adopted budget resolution, House Appropriators are moving forward with their work at the levels outlined in the budget resolution draft. By the end of the week, all 12 appropriations bills will have been considered at the subcommittee level, including the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) bill that is being considered on Tuesday evening and the Interior and Environment bill that will be marked up on Wednesday.

Progress in the Senate

The Senate has gotten off to a slower start than the House, with no budget resolution drafted and plans to consider its first appropriations bill this week.

Appropriators have been directed to draft bills at the funding level for FY 2018 approved in the Budget Control Act of 2011, which set spending caps through FY 2020, among other things. The cap for FY 2018 is higher for non-defense domestic spending, but lower for defense.

It is expected that Senate appropriators will race to pass all 12 appropriations bills through the committee before the August recess, though Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has given them more time by delaying the annual recess by two weeks.

Top image: Closeup of dollar bill. Photo in the public domain.


About the Author
Tess Hembree is policy manager at Advocacy Associates.

July 11, 2017

By Tess Hembree