Non-Defense Programs Take Hit as House Spending Bill Allocations Emerge

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By Nancy Ognanovich

The full picture of government funding in store under budget sequestration is beginning to emerge at the House Appropriations Committee, which revealed the last of the allocations for the 12 spending bills as it works to report all the measures by month’s end.

After committing the bulk of limited funds to security-related bills in June, Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) on July 12 released the last of the non-defense appropriations bills showing plans to deeply cut many domestic programs in the absence of any new budget agreement.

The committee said it plans to start moving bills July 13 that cut State-Foreign Operations programs by $10 billion and Labor, Health, and Human Services programs by $5 billion. The cuts come on top of those announced earlier in the week for programs covered by the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development bill and Interior-Environment legislation. The THUD bill carries a $1.1 billion cut and the Interior bill an $824 million reduction.

Frelinghuysen is pushing to have these and the rest of the 12 bills approved in committee and ready for possible floor action before the five-week August recess that the House still plans to take. Lawmakers again are facing a possible lapse in federal government funds when current spending lapses Sept. 30.

Minus either a fiscal 2018 budget resolution or a new bipartisan budget agreement that removes the threat of sequestration, Frelinghuysen is advancing bills under the existing Budget Control Act’s discretionary spending caps that allow for little extra in spending. But to accommodate the large increases for defense that President Donald Trump and Republican leaders want, Frelinghuysen is advancing other bills that sharply cut non-defense.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Frelinghuysen is proceeding “essentially blind” without a 2018 budget resolution or bipartisan budget agreement easing the caps. But he said the chairman recently received an unofficial “upper number” to advance bills.

“Where that upper number comes from, I don’t know,” Hoyer, a former member of the Appropriations panel, told reporters. “And they’re marking their bills within that. Almost all of the bills are cut significantly, some more than others, none as deeply as [Trump] would have suggested, but nevertheless deeply, and a 5 percent cut in the Labor-Health bill, which, of course, deals with people’s health, education, and welfare.”

Security Priorities

Under the BCA the discretionary spending cap for FY 2018 is $1.065 trillion, a reduction from the $1.070 trillion total allowed for the current year.

But Frelinghuysen prioritized security-related bills early on, first providing $88.8 billion for the annual Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill—a $6 billion increase. After reporting that bill the committee approved a Department of Defense bill with $658.1 billion in total spending—a $68.1 billion hike. The total includes $584.2 billion in regular discretionary spending and $73.9 billion in so-called Overseas Contingency Operations account money.

More recently, appropriators released a $44.3 billion Homeland Security bill representing a $1.9 billion increase over current funds. The increase includes $1.6 billion to begin construction on the border wall Trump originally wanted Mexico to pay for.

But many of the latter bills have been slated for cuts. The THUD bill at $56.5 billion with $1.1 billion in cuts targeted mass transit for reductions and “zeroed out” popular TIGER grants. Other reductions amounting to $824 million were included in the Interior-Environment bill.

Deeper cuts, however, were revealed when Frelinghuysen released the final two bills.The committee’s draft State-Foreign Operations spending bill calls for programs overseen by the State Department to be funded at $47.4 billion, down from the $53.1 billion provided in the FY 2017 omnibus. The panel said in releasing the draft that the total amounts to a $10 billion cut when other funds appropriated last year also are taken into account.The State Department itself would receive $15.4 billion, a cut of $2.6 billion. Multilateral assistance funds that support international organizations and banks is cut to $888 million, a $1.2 billion cut from current funding. The bill, which is scheduled for a subcommittee markup on July 13, receives funding under the regular discretionary cap as well as $12 billion in so-called Overseas Contingency Operations account money not subject to the cap. That’s also a cut from the $16.5 billion in OCO funds provided this year.Meanwhile, the Labor-HHS bill also is moving to markup at the subcommittee level July 13. It provides $156 billion in fiscal year 2018, down from current funding of $161 billion.Among the programs slated for cuts is the Labor Department, with the $10.8 billion total reflecting a $1.3 billion reduction, and HHS, with a $77.6 billion budget that is $542 million less than this year. The Education Department’s proposed funding of $66 billion is a $2.4 billion cut from this year. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at $3.5 billion is facing a $219 million cut.Among the few winners is the National Institutes of Health, which is slated to receive an increase for a third consecutive year. The committee proposed a $1.1 billion increase to bring its total to $35.2 billion.

Labor-HHS Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said she’s pleased the NIH got an increase but questioned the cuts to education, job training, and more.

"[T]here are many other programs within this bill that are shortchanged due to the insufficient allocation from the Republican majority,” DeLauro said. “Under the Budget Control Act, House Republicans could have allocated more non-defense spending for these critical programs, yet they chose to grossly underfund them.”

C-J-S, Financial Services Next on Tap

Frelinghuysen plans to mark up two more of the spending bills—Commerce-Justice-Science, and Financial Services—at the full committee July 13, action that could put a total of seven bills in the queue for possible floor action, or more than half of the measures. More bills are headed to full committee markups the week of July 17.

But full committee ranking member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said these and other markups still won’t change the poor outlook for the bills as currently written.

“This week this committee will make a big show of being extremely busy, marking up nine bills at subcommittee or full committee level. But until a bipartisan process commences to raise caps on defense and nondefense spending, this is all for naught. Appropriations laws will not be enacted until we reach a common agreement on raising the spending caps to more acceptable levels,” Lowey said at a markup of the Agriculture bill.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at nognanov@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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