As New Fiscal Year Dawns, FY19 Appropriations are 75% Enacted

October 4, 2018

This is the first week of the fiscal new year, and for the first time in decades, the federal government started the fiscal year with more than half of its annual discretionary appropriations already signed into law.

In fact, with President Trump’s September 28 signature of the second package of fiscal 2019 appropriations bills into law, a total of 75 percent of all planned discretionary appropriations have been enacted.

The two appropriations packages signed into law so far (which encompass five of the twelve annual appropriations bills – Defense, Energy and Water Development, Labor-HHS-Education, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction/Veterans) together provide $1.003 trillion in total discretionary funding. Under the Budget Control Act spending caps and the spending plans adopted by the House and Senate earlier this year, only $327 billion in additional fiscal 2019 appropriations are planned (for a grand total of $1.330 trillion).

The word “planned” excludes emergencies which are supposed to be, by definition, unplanned, and the pending FAA authorization bill that President Trump will sign this weekend appropriates $1.7 billion in emergency funding that is not reflected in the above totals.

However, in many respects, the first trillion was the easy part. The remaining $327 billion is almost entirely non-defense funding (only $8 billion of funding classified in the defense budget function remains to be appropriated, split mostly between FBI salaries and FEMA/DHS preparedness activities, with a bit thrown in for the Maritime Administration and the Coast Guard).

Without the “sweetener” of funding for veterans programs (in the first tranche of bills) or defense funding (in the second tranche), bringing up domestic appropriations may simply bring focus to the “spender’s remorse” that many Republicans feel when thinking about the two-year budget deal enacted in February 2018. That deal enabled the completion of fiscal 2018 spending and allowed the relatively rapid pace of the 2019 bills, but it did so by providing phenomenal spending increases over the previous year – spending increases that were measurably greater, in percentage terms, for non-defense programs than for defense programs.

FY18 over FY17 FY19 over FY18 2-Year Increase
Base Defense (plus Defense OCO) +9.6% +3.0% +12.6%
Base Non-Defense +11.7% +3.1% +14.8%

Of the remaining $327 billion, House and Senate negotiators have penciled in about $71.1 billion for the Transportation-HUD bill, leaving $256.3 billion for the other six appropriations bills.

Negotiators had been trying to complete another four-bill tranche of appropriations bills (Agriculture, Financial Services and General Government, Interior and Environment, and Transportation-HUD) before the elections but were unable to get the package cleared. When Congress returns on November 14 for the lame-duck session, attempts will be made to get the appropriations process complete by the time the continuing resolution that is providing stopgap funding for the other 25 percent of the discretionary side of the government.

Politically, that process is probably going to revolve around the long-postponed fight between the White House and Democrats over how much funding for the US-Mexico border wall in the Homeland Security bill. But now that the process has been kicked into the lame duck, it becomes more likely that the three bills that have had no House-Senate negotiations (Commerce-Justice-Science, Homeland Security, and State/Foreign Operations) will be combined with the other four into one omnibus package, with attendant shutdown-related drama.

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