As Other Agencies Face Cutbacks, House Appropriators Give Corps Water Program 15% Increase

Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee may have triggered a lot of fears for domestic spending programs with their austere budget ceilings for fiscal 2024 approved this week, but their love for the water resources program of the Army Corps of Engineers proves eternal.

The draft bill approved in an Appropriations Subcommittee yesterday would provide $9.6 billion in new funding for the Corps “civil works” program – a 15 percent increase over the fiscal 2023 appropriations total and a 29 percent increase over President Biden’s request.

The total for the Corps was $9.57 billion. (It was not long ago – fiscal year 2017 to be precise – when the regular Corps civil works budget was just under $6 billion per year.)

In dollar terms, there are two big differences between what the House wants and what the President wants:

Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund spend-down. The Office of Management and Budget was never happy about the provision that chairmen Shelby and DeFazio finally got enacted into law in 2020 to encourage a 10-year spend-down of accumulated Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund balances. The provision basically says that, for budget scorekeeping purposes, Congress can spend up to the last completed fiscal year’s HMTF receipts and interest, plus a fixed amount of the balance, and it is if that appropriation just does not exist for budget scorekeeping purposes. (A spending cap exclusion, not a spending cap adjustment.)

This year, the amount that the law says can be spent out of the HMTF and hidden from the budget scorekeepers is almost $2.8 billion, but the President only requested $1.8 billion in his budget. The House, obviously, restores that entire $1.045 billion, but that extra spending does not count against the budget ceiling for the bill set by Republicans on Appropriations this week.

Construction. The House bill takes this account into overdrive, giving it almost $1.1 billion more than last year’s law, and $838 million more than the President’s request. Sadly, we have to wait and see the draft committee report next week to get a sense of which projects that the House bill will favor with that extra money.

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