House Kicks Off FY 2015 Appropriations Process

The first of the FY 2015 appropriations bills hit the House floor today, kicking off a five month timeline for lawmakers to avoid a government shutdown like the one last October. Overall spending levels will not be a problem to the extent they were last year, as overall levels were approved in last year's Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA), and both parties seem to be willing to stick to them. Although the House budget changes discretionary spending levels and allocations in future years, it leaves them the same for FY 2015. With those caps, discretionary spending will increase by $2 billion, with the majority of that increase going to defense spending. Of course, the House and Senate may differ on how those pots of money should be divvied up.

The House will work on two relatively politically easy bills dealing with Military Construction and Veterans' Affairs (H.R. 4486) and the Legislative Branch (H.R. 4487). Both bills were approved by a voice vote in the Appropriations Committee about three weeks ago. The Military Construction-VA bill would provide $71.5 billion in discretionary budget authority, a decrease of $1.8 billion from FY 2014. This drop is apparently due to less demand for military construction projects; veterans' spending will increase by $1.5 billion. The Legislative Branch bill would provide $3.3 billion for House and joint operations, the same as in FY 2014, and Congressional salaries would continue to be frozen as they have been since 2010. Policy riders in both of these bills will likely not be much of an issue.

In addition, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science began its work on their bill, with a markup this morning. The draft legislation would provide $51.2 billion of discretionary Budget Authority (BA), $398 million less than FY 2014. Funding allocations include $27.8 billion for the Justice Department, $17.9 billion for NASA, $8.35 billion for the Commerce Department, and $7.4 billion for the National Science Foundation -- all of which represent an increase from FY 2014 levels. The bill also includes savings from eliminating a number of programs and rescinding unused funds.

One issue with the process so far: The Committee has yet to make 302(b) allocations, which set the overall funding levels for each of the 12 bills. The piecemeal approach that the House has been taking runs the risk of leaving too little funds for the later bills, forcing lawmakers to scramble to adjust funding amounts. Granted, they would need to reconcile their bills with the Senate's, leaving them an opportunity to revise funding allocations, but it could make the process more chaotic. Yesterday, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) set the overall discretionary funding level at the BBA cap levels and overall allocation levels (including mandatory spending), but it is still up to the Appropriations Committee to set the specific discretionary allocations.

The agreement set forth in the BBA provides a framework that makes the outlook for this year's appropriations process relatively smooth compared to recent years, and certainly last year. Still, the lack of organization could portend some scrambling to get the work done.