Appropriations Watch: FY 2017

Last updated 5/27/16 to reflect the appropriations activity in Congress this week. 

The appropriations process has begun in earnest on Capitol Hill and even though Congress has not yet passed a budget, both chambers are moving forward with appropriations bills. The Senate has laid out its topline spending targets known as 302(b) allocations for the twelve Appropriations subcommittees to direct the appropriations process as provided in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA). The House is pushing ahead without an official 302(b), though the House Appropriations Committee has said it will move forward with informal allocations based on the top line limit set in the BBA last year. As we did last year, we'll be tracking the bills as they move from committee to the House and Senate floor, and onto the President's desk.

The table below shows the status of each appropriations bill. To learn more about the appropriations process, read our report: Appropriations 101, and read here for more detail about how the House and Senate are moving forward without a Budget Resolution.

Item House Senate
Budget Resolution Approved by full committee 3/16 (20-16) Not yet introduced
302(b) Allocations  Not yet released  Approved by full committee 4/18 (29-1)
Agriculture Approved by full committee 4/19 (voice vote) Approved by full committee 5/19 (30-0)
Commerce, Justice, Science Approved by full committee 5/24 (voice vote) Approved by full committee 4/21 (30-0)
Defense Approved by full committee 5/17 (voice vote) Approved by full committee 5/26 (30-0)
Energy and Water Development Failed the House 5/26 (112-305) Passed the Senate 5/12  (90-8)
Financial Services and General Government Approved by subcommittee 5/25 (voice vote) Hearings held
Homeland Security Hearings held Approved by full committee 5/26 (30-0)
Interior, Environment Approved by subcommittee 5/25 (voice vote) Hearings held
Labor, HHS, Education Hearings held Scheduled for full committee markup on 6/9
Legislative Branch Floor vote expected (week of 6/6) Approved by full committee 5/19 (30-0)
Military Construction, VA Passed the House 5/19 (295-129-9) Passed the Senate 5/19 (89-8)
State, Foreign Operations Hearings held Hearings held
Transportation, HUD Approved by subcommittee 5/18 (voice vote) Passed the Senate 5/19 (89-8)

Sources: House Appropriations Committee, Senate Appropriations Committee, CQ, Congress.gov

As we explained in Appropriations 101, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approve 302(b) spending levels for each subcommittee after the topline 302(a) levels are determined by the Budget Committees. Below is an excerpt (click here to read the full report).

How does Congress determine the total level of appropriations?
Under current law, after the President submits the Administration’s budget proposal to Congress, the House and Senate Budget Committees are each directed to report a budget resolution, which if passed by their respective houses, would then be reconciled in a budget conference (see Q&A: Everything You Need to Know About a Budget Conference). The resulting budget resolution, which is a concurrent resolution and therefore not signed by the President, includes what is known as a 302(a) allocation that sets a total amount of money for the Appropriations Committees to spend. For example, the conferenced budget between the House and Senate set the 302(a) limit for FY 2016 at $1.017 trillion. In the absence of a budget resolution, each chamber may enact a deeming resolution that sets the 302(a) allocation for that chamber. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 gave the Chairman of the Budget Committee authority to set the 302(a) allocation for the Appropriations Committee for Fiscal Year 2017 at the statutory discretionary spending cap established by the Bipartisan Budget Act.

In addition, discretionary spending is currently subject to statutory spending caps. The Budget Control Act of 2011 set discretionary caps through 2021, which were modified for 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, and the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. Beyond 2017, the statutory caps set by the Budget Control Act are reduced by about $90 billion annually through an enforcement mechanism known as “sequestration” (see Understanding the Sequester) implemented after the failure of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to produce legislation to reduce the deficit.

How does Congress allocate appropriations?
Once they receive 302(a) allocations, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees set 302(b) allocations to divide total appropriations among 12 subcommittees, each dealing with a different part of the budget. Those subcommittees must then decide how to distribute funds within their 302(b) allocations. These 302(b) allocations are voted on by the respective Appropriations Committees but are not subject to review or vote by the full House or Senate. The table below lists the FY 2015 regular (non-war, non-disaster) appropriations, along with the House FY 2016 302(b) allocations for each of the subcommittees.

The table below compares actual funding for FY 2016 with the Senate 302(b) allocations for FY 2017. The additional $30 billion in this year's allocations is primarily due to higher spending in the defense and military construction/Veterans' Affairs accounts.

Budget Authority Allocations to Appropriations Subcommittees (billions)
Subcommittee FY 16 Enacted FY 17 Senate
Agriculture $21.8 $21.3
Commerce, Justice, Science $55.7 $56.3
Defense $514.1 $516.0
Energy and Water Development $37.2 $37.5
Financial Services and General Government $23.2 $22.4
Homeland Security  $41.0 $41.2
Interior, Environment  $32.2 $32.0
Labor, HHS, Education $162.1 $161.9
Legislative Branch $4.4 $4.4
Military Construction, VA $79.9 $83.0
State, Foreign Operations $37.8 $37.2
Transportation, HUD $57.3 $56.5
Total $1.067 trillion $1.070 trillion

Sources: Senate Appropriations Committee, CBO.

We are glad to see Congress considering appropriations bills on schedule this year. However, it is important that Congress avoids budget gimmicks and sticks to the discretionary funding limits in current law. If you have any questions about terminology or the appropriations process, please see our report Appropriations 101, and stay tuned to our blog for continuing coverage.

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