Policy and Advocacy Conference: Budget and Appropriations Primer

The Policy and Advocacy Conference begins this weekend, capped off with Planners’ Day on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, September 26 when planners will storm the Hill to speak up for federal support for good planning.

Even if you’re not joining APA in Washington, you can participate in virtual Planners’ Day on Capitol Hill. Visit APA’s Legislative Action Center on Tuesday to send letters to your legislators.

In previous years, planners have visited Congress during times of budget and appropriations uncertainty, and in 2013, on the first day of a prolonged government shutdown. This year, however, funding for the fiscal year that begins on October 1 has been set for the first three months and budget negotiations have begun, but there is still significant work left to be done to finalize spending for the entire 2018 fiscal year.

Short-Term Spending, Disaster Relief Package

Funding for the government beyond the end of the fiscal year on September 30 was resolved quickly and relatively quietly compared to previous years.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) met with the President during the first week of September and offered him a deal for Democratic support for a package that would extend the debt ceiling, continue government funding until December 8, and provide double the amount of disaster relief for Hurricane Harvey than approved by the House. Somewhat surprisingly, the President accepted the deal. It was quickly approved by Congress and signed into law by the President on September 8.

Among other things, the deal includes:

  • Continued government funding until Friday, December 8, with an across-the-board cut of 0.6791 percent
  • Extension of the debt limit until Friday, December 8
  • $15.25 billion disaster relief for Hurricane Harvey
  • Extension of the National Flood Insurance Program until Friday, December 8

House Omnibus

Immediately after returning to Washington from its month-long August recess, the House began consideration of an eight-bill omnibus package, which would complete its appropriations work for the upcoming 2018 fiscal year.

After more than a week of debate over amendments, the House voted 211-198 to approve the package. The bill now goes to the Senate, which is not expected to consider it.

The omnibus contains the FY 2018 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development spending bill, which proposes level funding to the Community Development Block Grant program, a $100 million cut to the HOME program, elimination of TIGER, and a 47 percent cut to New Starts.

The passage of the omnibus is largely symbolic, allowing the House to send the message that it has finished its appropriations work for the upcoming fiscal year, though the package will give the House a starting point for negotiations on a final spending package. The Senate is unlikely to consider the bill and is still working on appropriations bills at the committee level.

The bigger fight that has yet to be addressed is the overall spending level for FY 2018, as the House and Senate are proposing wildly different topline levels.

Budget and Appropriations Moving Forward

Little progress has been made on the passage of budget resolutions in both the House and the Senate.

The House Budget Committee unveiled a draft budget resolution in June that proposed a $72 billion increase to defense spending and a $5 billion cut to non-defense discretionary spending, which is a violation of the Budget Control Act and would trigger automatic sequestration of defense accounts if signed into law without an accompanying budget agreement to raise the caps.

The draft budget resolution was met with opposition from both fiscal hawks and deficit hawks, and Budget Committee Chairwoman Diane Black (R-Tenn.) struggled to get enough votes to pass the resolution through committee, but the resolution was ultimately approved by the committee in late July.

Chairwoman Black is still struggling to garner enough support for the resolution to bring it to a floor vote; she had hoped to bring it to the floor in early September, but opposition from the conservative House Freedom Caucus meant that she didn’t quite have the votes to pass it. Once the House returns from recess, the legislative calendar is packed and even if she were to get enough votes for passage, a vote on the resolution is unlikely until October.

Meanwhile, the Senate has not yet released a budget resolution draft and reportedly does not plan to until at least October. Appropriators were told this summer to write spending bills at FY 2017 spending levels, which are slightly higher than the FY 2018 cap under the Budget Control Act and would trigger sequestration if implemented without a budget agreement to raise the caps.

Even if both chambers do successfully pass budget resolutions, the issue of topline funding for the year is likely to be unresolved. Some sort of deal will need to be made that would raise spending levels, though negotiations reportedly have not yet begun.

Simply passing a full-year continuing resolution would still cause budgetary issues. The FY 2017 spending levels are higher than FY 2018, and an automatic sequestration would be triggered.

Top image: U.S. Capitol by Flickr user Bill Dickinson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

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

September 22, 2017

By Tess Hembree