Appropriations Update: Senate Heading Toward Cutting More

 The Senate appears headed toward cutting discretionary spending even below the level called for by Senate appropriators. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the Senate floor this week that he has an informal agreement with Republican leaders that spending be capped at $1.08 trillion, less than the $1.114 trillion established by Senate appropriators in their subcommittee allocations. That is the amount called for in the spending plan offered by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)

Since there was no agreement on a Fiscal 2011 budget resolution, each committee is working from its own bottom-line discretionary spending total. The House Appropriations Committee's allocations total $1.121 trillion. In many past years, the Senate has proposed spending more on discretionary programs than the House proposed, but that's clearly not the case here. This year, many allocations also are set below last year's funding level and below President Obama's budget request. The President requested a discretionary spending level of $1.128 trillion. Last year, Congress and the President agreed to spend almost $1.090 trillion

The McCaskill-Sessions plan, which the senators have offered as amendments to other legislation, would cap discretionary spending for five years; but since appropriations action in Congress only covers one year, it is unlikely that the Senate will agree to multi-year caps this year. Adopting the McCaskill-Sessions plan for one year is a start. But we believe that a comprehensive plan that would include multi-year spending caps should be the next step. 

While discretionary spending makes up only 40 percent of the budget, it has grown faster than inflation in recent years. And along with strong PAYGO rules, spending caps can help keep the debt crisis from getting worse.