Appropriations Update: Sequester Looms Large in the Process

The appropriations process is usually arduous, but this year may be even more so. The largest disagreement between the Senate and House, which is nowhere close to being solved, is how to deal with sequestration. The Senate Appropriations Committee is working from an overall funding level of $1,058 billion for FY 2014, as was set by the Budget Control Act caps without sequestration. However, the House has chosen to work from the lower post-sequester level of $967.4 billion, with House Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY) frequently saying that the issue of the sequester would need to be resolved outside of the appropriations bills. Sometime before September 30th, the two chambers will need to reconcile this $90 billion gap.

The House has passed appropriations bills for Homeland Security and Military Construction-VA, while the Agriculture, Defense, Energy-Water, and Transportation-HUD appropriations bills have been passed by the Appropriations Committee. While the House has planned to meet overall sequester levels, funding has been shifted to defense spending (which will exceed BCA post-sequester levels by $54 billion) while more severe cuts have been allocated among domestic programs. The Senate Appropriations Committee has passed Agriculture, Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA, and Transportation-HUD bills, but none have been taken up by the Senate.

The pace at which the appropriations process is progressing is worrisome, especially given the divide on how to handle the sequester. Around this time last year, five appropriations bills had passed the House and another five had passed the Committee. While no bills had passed the full Senate around the same time last year, nine bills had passed the Appropriations Committee. However, the Senate plans to move Labor-HHS-Education and Legislative Branch bills next week, according to Congressional Quarterly (subscription required). The House Labor-HHS-Education bill calls for a $121 billion funding level for 2014, $28 bill below the FY 2013 level with sequestration.

We've said before that it would be better to work on a solution now rather than waiting until the fall, when uncertainty will once again put the country on edge. With no consensus on how to deal with sequestration, the House and Senate are proceeding on two separate tracks. Reconciling these approaches will be difficult, as well as resolving smaller, narrower policy disagreements between the two chambers. While we are happy to see appropriations moving forward, it would be much better to see lawmakers begin to negotiate solutions for sequestration, the expiring CR, and the debt ceiling before the eleventh hour.

Status of Appropriations Bills
Bill House Status Senate Status
Agriculture Passed by Committee Passed by Committee
Commerce-Justice-Science  No Action No Action
Defense Passed by Committee No Action
Energy-Water Passed by Committee Passed by Committee
Financial Services No Action No Action
Homeland Security Passed by House No Action
Interior-Environment No Action No Action
Labor-HHS-Education No Action No Action
Legislative Branch No Action No Action
Military Construction-VA Passed by House Passed by Committee
State-Foreign Ops No Action No Action
Transportation-HUD Passed by Committee Passed by Committee

Source: House and Senate Appropriation Committee websites