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Appropriations Watch: FY 2020

Jul 10, 2019 | Other Spending

Updated 7/10/2019: Press reports indicate the Senate will not proceed with appropriations bills until lawmakers reach a deal with the White House on raising the discretionary spending caps for FY 2020. While the House has passed 10 out of 12 appropriations bills, the Senate has not advanced any bills at the subcommittee level, the first step to floor consideration.  

Congress began appropriations work for FY 2020 in March and started to release individual appropriations bills in May. Under current law, discretionary spending levels are scheduled to return to their sequester-level caps in FY 2020, a 10 percent decrease from current levels.

While Congress is supposed to complete a budget resolution to lay out fiscal principles and set an appropriations level, lawmakers have not yet adopted one. The House used a procedure known as "deeming," allowing the House Appropriations Committee to begin its work assuming that increased spending caps are continued with inflation. However, in order to finish appropriations at the House-deemed level, Congress would need to change the spending caps through enactment of a new law.

As we did last year, we'll be tracking the bills as they move from committee to the House and Senate floor and onto the President's desk.

The table below shows the status of each appropriations bill. To learn more about the appropriations process, read our report Appropriations 101

Appropriations will be one of several deadlines Congress will face over the coming months. See a list of the upcoming fiscal deadlines here.

Appropriations Watch: FY 2020
Item House   Senate
Budget Resolution None expected; budget caps increase approved by committee on 4/3; rule deeming 302(a) allocation adopted by House on 4/9 by a 219-201 vote   Approved by committee on 3/28
302(b) Approved by committee on 5/8 by a 30 to 22 vote   N/A
Agriculture Passed by House on 6/25 by a 227-194 vote as part of minibus #2   Hearings held
Commerce, Justice, Science Passed by House on 6/25 by a 227-194 vote as part of minibus #2   Hearings held
Defense  Passed by House on 6/19 by a 226-203 vote as part of minibus #1   Hearings held
Energy and Water Development Passed by House on 6/19 by a 226-203 vote as part of minibus #1   Hearings held
Financial Services and General Government Passed by the House on 6/26 by a 224-196 vote   Hearings held
Homeland Security Approved by subcommittee on 6/5; approved by full committee on 6/11 by a 29 to 20 vote   Hearings held
Interior, Environment Passed by House on 6/25 by a 227-194 vote as part of minibus #2   Hearings held
Labor, HHS, Education Passed by House on 6/19 by a 226-203 vote as part of minibus #1   Hearings held
Legislative Branch Approved by subcommittee on 5/1; approved by full committee on 5/9 by a 28 to 22 vote   Hearings held
Military Construction, VA  Passed by House on 6/25 by a 227-194 vote as part of minibus #2   Hearings held
State, Foreign Operations Passed by House on 6/19 by a 226-203 vote as part of minibus #1   Hearings held
Transportation, HUD Passed by House on 6/25 by a 227-194 vote as part of minibus #2   Hearings held

Sources: House Appropriations CommitteeSenate Appropriations Committee, All dates are in 2019 unless noted otherwise.

As we explained in Appropriations 101, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approve 302(b) spending levels for each subcommittee after the topline 302(a) levels are determined by the Budget Committees. Below is an excerpt (click here to read the full report).

How does Congress determine the total level of appropriations?

Under current law, after the President submits the Administration’s budget proposal to Congress, the House and Senate Budget Committees are each directed to report a budget resolution that, if passed by their respective houses, would then be reconciled in a budget conference (see Q&A: Everything You Need to Know About a Budget Conference).

The resulting budget resolution, which is a concurrent resolution and therefore not signed by the President, includes what is known as a 302(a) allocation that sets a total amount of money for the Appropriations Committees to spend. For example, the conferenced budget between the House and Senate set the 302(a) limit for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 at $1.017 trillion.

In the absence of a budget resolution, each chamber may enact a deeming resolution that sets the 302(a) allocation for that chamber. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 gave the Chairmen of the Budget Committees authority to set the 302(a) allocation for the Appropriations Committees for FY 2018 and FY 2019 at the statutory discretionary spending caps set by the law. For the upcoming year (FY 2020), Congress may also set the 302(a) allocation using an alternative method, depending on whether lawmakers enact legislation to address the statutory spending caps. The House adopted a rule on April 9 that deemed the 302(a) level for FY 2020 that exceeds the caps, while the Senate Budget Committee approved a budget resolution in March that assumes the caps remain at their statutory levels while allowing them to be adjusted if an agreement is reached.

Discretionary spending has been subject to statutory spending caps since 2013. The Budget Control Act of 2011 set discretionary caps through 2021, which have been modified by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, and the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. For 2020 and 2021, the statutory caps set by the Budget Control Act will be reduced by about $90 billion annually through an enforcement mechanism known as “sequestration” (see Understanding the Sequester) implemented after the failure of the 2011 Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to produce legislation to reduce deficits.

How does Congress allocate appropriations?

Once they receive 302(a) allocations, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees set 302(b) allocations to divide total appropriations among the 12 subcommittees dealing with different parts of the budget. The subcommittees then decide how to distribute funds within their 302(b) allocations. 302(b) allocations are voted on by the respective Appropriations Committees, but they are not subject to review or vote by the full House or Senate. The table below lists the FY 2019 regular (non-war, non-disaster) appropriations along with the House’s FY 2020 302(b) allocations and the Senate Budget Committee’s proposed 302(a) allocation in its budget resolution. (It will be updated following the release of Senate 302(b) allocations for FY 2020.)

The table below compares actual funding for FY 2019 with the FY 2020 302(b) allocations from the House and Senate. 

Budget Authority Allocations to Appropriations Subcommittees (billions)
Subcommittee FY 19 Enacted Level House FY 20 Senate FY 20
Agriculture $23.0 $24.3 N/A
Commerce, Justice, Science $64.1 $66.4 N/A
Defense* $606.5 $622.1 N/A
Energy and Water Development $44.6 $46.4 N/A
Financial Services and General Government $23.4 $24.6 N/A
Homeland Security* $49.4 $49.7 N/A
Interior, Environment $35.6 $37.3 N/A
Labor, HHS, Education $178.1 $189.9 N/A
Legislative Branch $4.8 $5.0 N/A
Military Construction, VA* $97.1 $105.2 N/A
State, Foreign Operations* $46.2 $48.4 N/A
Transportation, HUD $71.1 $75.8 N/A
Total $1.244 trillion $1.295 trillion $1.118 trillion+

*In addition to base discretionary appropriations, final FY 2019 spending measures also included a total of $77 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations spending, $67.9 billion of which is designated for the Department of Defense, $8 billion of which is designated for the State Department, $921 million of which is designated for military construction, and $165 million of which is designated for the Department of Homeland Security. Including OCO funds, disaster relief, emergency requirements, and program integrity, FY 2019 spending measures provide $1.337 trillion in budget authority and $1.347 trillion in outlays.
+The Senate 302(a) allocation comes from the budget resolution approved by the Senate Budget Committee, but it has not yet been adopted by the full Senate.
Sources: CBO, H. Res. 293, Senate Budget Committee.

As Congress considers appropriations bills, it is important that lawmakers avoid budget gimmicks and stick to the discretionary funding limits in current law until and unless they can agree on a fiscally responsible plan to amend the caps. If you have any questions about terminology or the appropriations process, please see our report Appropriations 101, and stay tuned to our blog for continuing coverage.