Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Appropriations Process

The Final Part in our Examination of the Budget and Appropriations Process

With the 302a allocations determined by the budget resolutions, the process moves to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. The Chairperson of each chamber’s Appropriations Committee divides the allocation from the budget resolution into 12 separate 301b sub-allocations, one for each of 12 subcommittees. These subcommittees oversee different federal agencies and programs (e.g. Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies; or Energy and Water Development). The subcommittees take those limits and apportion money to the federal programs and agencies under their authority. The subcommittees will each pass their bill and the Appropriations Committee will then consider and amend the appropriations bills from the subcommittees. After that, the full House and Senate vote on the bills, reconcile differences, and send them to the President by October 1st, which is the start of the new fiscal year.

Or, at least that’s what’s supposed to happen under something called “regular order.” Of course, nothing about Congress follows regular order these days. Sometimes, to make the process easier, Congress will combine different spending bills to create an “Omnibus” bill. Because an Omnibus bill would be voted on just once (instead of 12 separate votes for 12 separate bills), these can be easier to pass.

If the work on any or all of the appropriations bills isn’t done by October 1st, Congress must take action to avoid a shutdown of any programs not yet funded. In this case, Congress can pass a bill maintaining funding at existing levels for any programs associated with an appropriations bill that hasn’t yet passed. These continuing resolutions (CRs) almost always have deadlines by which Congress must either pass a new CR, or finish up with the appropriations bills.

For FY 2018, Congress is pursuing both approaches. First, the House has created an “Omnibus” bill that combines all 12 appropriations bills. This bill has passed the House but is unlikely to pass the Senate. Meanwhile, both chambers continue to work on individual bills. But because this work was not finished by October 1st, the Congress had to pass a CR to keep government funded. This CR expires December 8th. So look for some excitement in the coming months!

- Jared Payne

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