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Appropriations Watch: FY 2018

Sep 14, 2017 | Other Spending

Last updated 9/14/2017. The House (by a 316-90 vote) and Senate (by a 80-17 vote) voted last week on a continuing resolution which funds the government through December 8, 2017 and provides emergency funding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The bill also temporarily suspended the debt limit through December 8, 2017.

Appropriations season has heated up. Despite only the House Budget Committee approving a budget resolution, both chambers of Congress are holding hearings and approving appropriations bills. The House is working off of a total funding level that would significantly increase defense spending and slightly reduce non-defense spending compared to last year, while the Senate has adopted unofficial guidance that has an overall spending level that is the same as FY 2017 but with different allocations within that total. As we did last year, we'll be tracking the bills as they move from committee to the House and Senate floor, and onto 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, and read here for more detail about how the House and Senate are moving forward without a concurrent budget resolution.

Appropriations Watch: FY 2018
Item House   Senate
Continuing Resolution Through 12/9/2017 Passed by the House on 9/8 (316-90)   Passed by the Senate on 9/7 (80-17)
FY 2018 Omnibus Passed by the House on 9/14 (211-198)   Not yet introduced
Budget Resolution Approved by full committee on 7/19 (22-14)   Not yet released
302(b) Allocations Not yet released   Not yet released
Agriculture Approved by full committee on 7/12 (voice vote)   Approved by full committee on 7/20 (31-0)
Commerce, Justice, Science Approved by full committee on 7/13 (31-21)   Approved by full committee on 7/27 (30-1)
Defense Passed by the House on 7/27  (235-192)*   Subcommittee hearings held
Energy and Water Development Passed by the House on 7/27  (235-192)*   Approved by full committee on 7/20 (30-1)
Financial Services and General Government Approved by full committee on 7/13 (31-21)   Subcommittee hearings held
Homeland Security Approved by full committee on 7/18 (30-22)   Subcommittee hearings held
Interior, Environment Passed by the House on 9/14 (211-198)   Subcommittee hearings held
Labor, HHS, Education Approved by full committee on 7/19 (28-22)   Approved by full committee on 9/7 (29-2)
Legislative Branch Passed by the House on 7/27  (235-192)*   Approved by full committee on 7/27 (31-0)
Military Construction, VA  Passed by the House on 7/27  (235-192)*   Approved by full committee on 7/13 (31-0)
State, Foreign Operations Approved by full committee on 7/19 (voice vote)   Approved by full committee on 9/7 (29-2)
Transportation, HUD Approved by full committee on 7/17 (31-20)   Approved by full committee on 7/27 (31-0)

Sources: House Appropriations CommitteeSenate Appropriations Note all dates are in 2017.
*passed as part of the security minibus, which also included a small portion from Homeland Security.

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 2017 at $1.017 trillion. In the absence of a budget resolution, each chamber may enact a deeming resolution that sets the 302(a) allocation for that chamber. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 gave the Chairman of the Budget Committee authority to set the 302(a) allocation for the Appropriations Committee for Fiscal Year 2017 at the statutory discretionary spending cap established by the Bipartisan Budget Act.

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, 2015, 2016, and 2017 by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, and the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. Beyond 2017, 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 deficit.

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 compares actual funding for FY 2017 with the FY 2018 allocations put forward by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. The House allocation exceeds the discretionary spending cap on defense spending by approximately $72 billion; the cap would need to be modified to accomodate the House's increase in defense spending.

Budget Authority Allocations to Appropriations Subcommittees (billions)
Subcommittee FY 17 Enacted FY 18 House FY 18 Senate
Agriculture $20.9 $20.0 $20.5
Commerce, Justice, Science $56.6 $53.9 $53.4
Defense $516.1 $584.2 $513.1
Energy and Water Development $37.8 $37.6 $38.4
Financial Services and General Government $21.5 $20.2 $20.9
Homeland Security $42.4 $51.1 $44.1
Interior, Environment $32.2 $31.5 $32.0
Labor, HHS, Education $161.0 $157.9 $164.1
Legislative Branch $4.4 $4.5 $4.5
Military Construction, VA $82.3 $88.2 $88.2
State, Foreign Operations $36.6 $35.3 $30.4
Transportation, HUD $57.7 $56.5 $60.1
Total $1.070 trillion $1.141 trillion $1.070 trillion

Sources: Senate Appropriations Committee, House Appropriations Committee, CBO (FY2017)CBO (FY18).

As Congress considers appropriations bills, it is important that lawmakers avoid budget gimmicks and stick to the discretionary funding limits in current law until and unless they can agree on a fiscally responsible plan to amend the caps. 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.