The House is starting to debate and vote on some of the 12 appropriations bills now that a final budget resolution has been adopted and spending ceilings are in place. That process may be long and challenging as this week’s appropriations debate on the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and other agencies (THUD) legislation was voted on in committee. The debate became sharp over the proposed cuts in AMTRAK funding against the backdrop of the train crash in Philadelphia. That debate highlighted the difficult maneuverability within the appropriations bills due to the shrinking spending allocations.
To date the House has approved two bills: Energy and Water, and Military Construction with the Legislative Branch due up soon. The goal in past years is for the House to have every bill voted out of Committee by July 4 and almost all sent to the Senate by the August break.
The biggest challenges will be the Labor-HHS appropriations. The Labor-HHS spending allocation or total for FY 2016 is $153 billion for the House Committee, in the Senate the Labor-HHS allocation is $156 billion. The Senate bill keeps current spending levels (FY 15) while the House cuts $3 billion which sets spending below the 2014 mark. So the House will have to make deep cuts in some programs. Even the Senate frozen funding will cause problems because there is a strong desire to increase health research under the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Defense will also be a flashpoint with some in Congress seeking increases beyond the legal limit by $38 billion. The budget agreement written into law (after 2010) placed equal budget caps on defense and domestic spending but this year’s resolution allows Congress to count the extra 6
funding as an emergency thus avoiding breaking the cap for defense while keeping it in place for domestic spending. The President will have three options if Congress does increase defense spending without raising it for domestic programs: sign it, veto it, or refuse to categorize the Defense Department spending as an emergency setting off across the board cuts in that department in January.