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Appropriations Watch: FY 2016

Jul 9, 2015 | Other Spending

Note: This page is no longer being updated. See Appropriations Watch: FY 2017 for the latest updates on current appropriations. Last updated 12/9/15. Lawmakers passed a continuing resolution funding the government through December 11, 2015 at Fiscal Year 2015 levels. They went on to pass the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 that raised the statutory spending caps for FY2016 and 2017. Congress is expected to pass a short-term continuing resolution soon to keep the government open through December 16, 2015. This will give lawmakers time to reach an agreement on an omnibus appropriations bill providing funding for the remainder of FY2016. If Congress does not pass a short-term CR or an omnibus spending bill, the government will shut down.

The appropriations process is in full swing on Capitol Hill. The budget conference agreement laying out the topline spending levels, known as 302(a) allocations, passed the House by a vote of 226-197, and passed the Senate by a vote of 51-48. As we noted, the House has already moved to floor consideration of some bills, while the Senate is holding hearings and markups. As we did last year, we'll be tracking the bills as they move from committee to the House and Senate floor, and on to 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.

Item House Senate
302(b) Allocations  updated on 7/8 (29-21)  Approved by full committee (16-14)
Agriculture Approved by full committee (voice vote) Approved by full committee (28-2)
Commerce, Justice, Science Passed House (242-183) Approved by full committee (27-3)
Defense Passed House (278-149) Failed to achieve cloture on the motion to proceed (50-45)
Energy and Water Development Passed House (240-177) Approved by full committee (26-4)
Financial Services and General Government Approved by full commitee (30-20) Approved by full committee (16-14)
Homeland Security Approved by full committee (32-17) Approved by full committee (26-4)
Interior, Environment Floor vote postponed (week of 7/7) Approved by full committee  (16-14)
Labor, HHS, Education Approved by full committee  (30-21) Approved by full committee (16-14)
Legislative Branch Passed House (357-67) Approved by full committee  (27-3)
Military Construction, VA Passed House (255-163) Approved by full committee (21-9)
State, Foreign Operations Approved by full committee (voice vote) Approved by full committee (27-3)
Transportation, HUD Passed House (216-210) Approved by full committee (20-10)

Source: House Appropriations Committee, Senate Appropriations Committee, CQ

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 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, and 2015 by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 and Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. Beyond 2015, 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 debt.

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 2015 with the House and Senate 302(b) allocations for FY 2016. The House 302(b) allocations were updated on July 8th. The major change was the addition of $1.5 billion in program integrity (PI) funding for the Labor, HHS, Education bill.

Budget Authority Allocations to Appropriations Subcommittees (billions)
Subcommittee FY 15 Enacted FY 16 House FY 16 Senate
Agriculture $20.6 $20.7 $20.5
Commerce, Justice, Science $50.1 $51.4 $51.1
Defense $490.2  $490.2 $489.1
Energy and Water Development $34.2 $35.4 $35.4
Financial Services and General Government $21.8 $20.3 $20.6
Homeland Security  $39.7 $39.3 $40.2
Interior, Environment  $30.4 $30.2 $30.0
Labor, HHS, Education $156.8 $153.1
($154.5 with PI)
Legislative Branch $4.3 $4.3 $4.3
Military Construction, VA $71.8 $76.1 $77.6
State, Foreign Operations $40.0 $40.5 $39.0
Transportation, HUD $53.8 $55.3 $55.6
Total $1.014 trillion $1.017 trillion ($1.018 trillion including PI) $1.017 trillion

Source: House Appropriations Committee, 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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