House, Senate Committees Approve FY20 Budget Plans

April 5, 2019

The House and Senate Budget Committees have now approved vastly different spending plans for fiscal year 2020. While the House plan is headed for a vote by the full chamber next week, the Senate blueprint may have gone as far as it will ever go.

House. This week, the House Budget Committee approved a bill to increase total discretionary appropriations by $356 billion over the two-year 2020-2021 period above the amounts currently allowed by the spending caps in the Budget Control Act. The House Rules Committee has scheduled a hearing for Monday, April 8 to let the bill (H.R. 2021) come up for a vote later next week.

The two-year cap increase provided for by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 was for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. Accordingly, the caps for 2020 under current law require cuts of $125 billion in 2020 appropriations versus the 2019 enacted levels.

Billions of dollars. 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Defense 520.5 521.3 548.1 551.1 629.0 647.0 576.2 590.2
Non-Defense 491.8 492.4 518.5 518.5 579.0 597.0 543.2 556.1
Total 1,012.2 1,013.6 1,066.6 1,069.6 1,208.0 1,244.0 1,119.4 1,146.3
Decrease vs FY 2019 Enacted
Defense -70.8 -56.8
Non-Defense -53.8 -40.9
Total -124.6 -97.7

H.R. 2021 would increase the caps by $355.5 billion over two years – $175.7 billion in 2020 and $179.9 billion in 2021. In both years, the cap increases are split 50-50 between defense and non-defense (“parity” has long been at the top of the Democratic ask list every time the subject of increasing the caps has come up).

Defense Non-Defense Total
Current FY20 Caps 576.175 543.193 1,119.368
H.R. 2021 Increase +87.825 +87.825 +175.650
H.R. 2021 FY20 Caps 664.000 631.018 1,295.018
Current FY21 Caps 590.186 556.133 1,146.319
H.R. 2021 Increase +89.933 +89.923 +179.856
H.R. 2021 FY21 Caps 680.119 646.056 1,326.175
Total Caps Increase +177.758 +177.748 +355.506

Of course, appropriations subject to the caps only totaled about 93 percent of the total discretionary appropriations enacted by Congress to date in fiscal 2019. An additional $93 billion was appropriated via cap adjustments or exemptions (and that total will increase once a disaster relief bill for hurricanes etc. is enacted). H.R. 2021 also adds two more of these ways around the spending caps. One is an additional “program integrity adjustment” to allow increased appropriations for IRS tax enforcement not to count against the caps (since more tax enforcement brings in more tax money on the mandatory side of the budget than it costs on the discretionary side. (This is similar to a proposal in the Trump FY20 budget.) The other is a one-time $7.5 billion cap exemption for the 2020 Census.

H.R. 2021 also restricts the biggest cap work-around (“Overseas Contingency Operations” that were originally just to support Iraq/Afghanistan/GWOT activities but which have morphed into a general budget supplement for the Pentagon). The bill would freeze OCO at the FY 2019 enacted levels (to date), forever. The Trump Administration wants to take OCO from $77 billion in 2019 to $165 billion in 2020 as a way to get around the defense cap.

FY 2019 FY 2020 FY 2020
Enacted Trump Under
Defense to Date Budget H.R. 2021
Base Cap Level 647.0 576.2 664.0
Overseas Contingency Ops. +69.0 +164.6 +69.0
Emergencies +0.0 +9.2 +0.0
Subtotal, Defense 716.0 750.0 733.0
  vs. FY19 Enacted +34.0 +17.0
+4.7% +2.4%
Base Cap Level 597.0 543.2 631.0
Overseas Contingency Ops. +8.0 +0.0 +8.0
Disaster Relief +12.0 +19.4 +17.3
Program Integrity +1.9 +2.2 +9.7
Wildfires +0.0 +2.3 +2.3
CURES Act +0.8 +0.6 +0.6
Emergencies +1.7 +0.0 +0.0
Subtotal, Non-Defense 621.4 567.6 668.9
  vs. FY19 Enacted -53.7 +47.5
-8.6% +7.6%
Total Discretionary BA 1,337.4 1,317.6 1,401.9
  vs. FY19 Enacted -19.7 +64.5
-1.5% +4.8%

It is not certain whether H.R. 2021 has the votes to pass the House – Republican opposition is more or less unanimous between defense hawks wanting more money for defense and other Republicans finally getting a free chance to vote against the higher domestic spending levels they voted for just fourteen months ago. And from the left, progressive groups are attacking the bill and urging Democrats to vote “no” because they think that the defense number is too high and the non-defense number is not nearly high enough.

H.R. 2021 is not a full budget – Democratic leaders decided not to pursue a full-fledged budget plan this year because the fiscal tradeoffs needed to make numbers add up would divide their caucus. But H.R. 2021, like the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, allows Congress to dispense with a full-fledged budget blueprint and assigns spending totals to committees. (For the Appropriations Committee, the assigned total for 2020 would be the same as the adjusted caps total. For other committees, the assigned totals would be the most recent Congressional Budget Office baseline.)

The bill is expected to be brought to the floor under a special rule that will also provide that, once the House passes H.R. 2021, the Appropriations Committees can go ahead and write FY20 appropriations bills totaling up to the higher cap total, which will allow appropriations bills to start coming to the floor in the coming weeks. But, eventually, some kind of law must be enacted that actually increases the caps in order for appropriations bills written to a higher total not to trigger another round of across-the-board sequestration spending cuts.

Senate. Unlike their House counterparts, the Senate Budget Committee did, on March 28, by a party-line roll call vote, pass an actual budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 12). The text of the reported resolution is here and the committee print that takes the place of a formal written report is here. The budget was summarized in this March 22 ETW article, and none of the amendments offered or adopted at the markup session dealt with transportation or infrastructure.

Interestingly, the fact that the budget resolution calls for a highway user tax increase to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent didn’t really get any discussion at the markup, either.

But at this point, it does not seem likely that S. Con. Res. 12 will ever come up in the Senate for a vote.

(Ed. Note: Why, you ask, would the Budget Committee take the time to write and report a budget that is never going to the floor? Apparently because in the Senate, there is a precedent that if the Budget Committee does not report a budget resolution by April 1, any Senator can get a floor vote on a motion to proceed to their own budget resolution. And Majority Leader McConnell really does not like anyone other than himself to have the ability to call things up for votes.)

Amtrak. The House budget bill and the Senate budget resolution have one thing in common – they both reject Amtrak’s plea for “advance appropriations” to give the passenger railroad multi-year certainty in its federal subsidies. Amtrak’s 2020 budget request asked for the fiscal 2020 appropriations bill to give Amtrak funding not just for FY 2020 but for 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024 as well. Then the FY 2021 appropriations bill would give Amtrak appropriations for FY 2025, et cetera et cetera.

Section 202 of H.R. 2021 and 4101 of S. Con. Res. 12 both contain provisions limiting the 2021 advance appropriations in the 2020 appropriations bills to the same $28.852 billion as the advance appropriations that were in the 2019 bills, leaving no room for new advance appropriations for Amtrak.

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