On Wednesday the House Appropriations Committee Approved a bill that would fund the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (Labor-HHS).  The bill and committee report reduces spending below current year funding and attaches a number of provisions the President would reject.

Overall the bill provides $161.6 billion which is a cut of $569 million below this year.  It is also $2.8 billion below the Administration request.  The total funds all three departments and includes the Medicare, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance program.

Gainers in the House process include the National Institutes of Health (NIH) which receives a $1.25 billion increase to more than $33 billion with lesser increases to special education and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA).  The losers include the Labor Department with restrictions on certain labor law provisions including the elimination of the Bureau of International Labor Affairs and its annual reports on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, more cuts to the ACA, elimination of family planning and teen pregnancy prevention funding.

Some members of Congress are pleased with the fact that this is the first time they have been able to pass all 12 appropriations bills through the two houses’ appropriations committees for the first time in many years.  Unfortunately, it will not go any further and instead will result in a short term CR of a likely few weeks starting on October 1 and ending shortly after the election.

Like the Senate Appropriations Committee-approved Labor-HHS-Education bill the House bill provides flat funding for all the key child welfare programs with one lone exception.  The House bill provides a new $20 million through the Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) program to help build the child welfare prevention and services capacity within tribal communities and lands.  A proposal offered up by the Administration and supported by CWLA.

In terms of child welfare there was no increase in funding for CAPTA state grants, left at $25.3 million, CAPTA discretionary funding increased by $1 million to $34 million, Adoption Opportunities ($ 39 million), Adoption Incentives ($37.9 million) and Child Welfare Services ($269 million) Promoting Safe and Stable Families actually loses $20 million in court funding pending a reauthorization which must be done by October 1.  PSSSF discretionary funding is increased from the current $59 million to $79 million with the $20 million for tribes.

In regard to a CR the only question is when they will pass such a bill and how long it will run.  Some more conservative elements would prefer a bill that is flat-funded that runs into March 2017.  Others (including some Republicans) would like a bill that extends into early December and then respond after the election depending on who the new President is.

It is now almost twenty years since the Congress last passed all appropriations bills by the start of the fiscal year. In 1996 Congress sent an omnibus bill that combined 6 appropriations bills (including Labor-HHS) on September 30, 1996, a little more than a month before the re-election of President Bill Clinton.  An additional seven appropriations bills (there were 13 bills instead of 12) were sent individually to the President before September 30.

What all that means is that over 80 percent of Congress lacks any experience with what is supposed to be the annual appropriations process and controlling the nation’s “purse strings” is supposed to be one of the main constitutional roles of Congress.

Only fourteen percent of the senators were in Congress the last time appropriations was completed on time and at least three of those senators will be gone at the end of this year.  The House the percentage is not much better with only 15 percent having been elected before October 1996.  Of those 66 members at least three will be gone after December.

The Senate has passed all 12 bills through Appropriations Committee with the Energy and Water and the Military Construction bills passing the full Senate.  The House of Representatives has passed the Defense, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction bills while the remaining bills passed through the Committee.

Whether any of the funding figures are real is of question.  The Senate Appropriations Committee was able to move some funding around under relatively frozen caps by tapping into a surplus that exits under the college student Pell grants program.  Pell Grants are funded under a combination of annual appropriations and some mandatory funding.  In years when Congress does not appropriate enough they make up for the shortfall in the next year but this year there was a surplus.   The House Committee freed up funds by going after the ACA and family planning and a few other non-starters for the President.

You can find the funding levels for key child welfare and children’s program with this CWLA 2017 budget chart.