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Appropriations Watch: FY 2019

May 30, 2018 | Other Spending

Congress began appropriations work for FY 2019 in April. The enactment of the 2018 Bipartisan Budget Act increased defense and non-defense discretionary spending caps and has effectively allowed appropriators to begin to draft spending bills without a formal budget resolution. 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 Watch: FY 2019
Item House   Senate
Budget Resolution N/A   N/A
302(b) Approved by committee on 5/23   Approved by committee 5/24
Agriculture Approved by full committee on 5/16   Approved by full committee on 5/24
Commerce, Justice, Science Approved by full committee on 5/17   Hearings held
Defense  N/A   Hearings held
Energy and Water Development Approved by full committee on 5/16   Approved by full committee on 5/24
Financial Services and General Government Approved by subcommittee on 5/24   Hearings held
Homeland Security N/A   Hearings held
Interior, Environment Released by committee on 5/14   Hearings held
Labor, HHS, Education Hearings held   Hearings held
Legislative Branch Approved by full committee on 5/8   Hearings held
Military Construction, VA  Approved by full committee on 5/8   Hearings held
State, Foreign Operations Hearings held   Hearings held
Transportation, HUD Approved by full committee on 5/23   Hearings held

Sources: House Appropriations CommitteeSenate Appropriations All dates are in 2018 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 which, 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 that the law established.

Since 2011, discretionary spending has been subject to statutory spending caps. The Budget Control Act of 2011 set discretionary caps through 2021, which have been modified since 2013 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. Beyond 2019, 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 the deficit.

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. Those subcommittees must then decide how to distribute funds within their 302(b) allocations. These 302(b) allocations are voted on by the respective Appropriations Committees but are not subject to review or vote by the full House or Senate. The table below lists the FY 2018 regular (non-war, non-disaster) appropriations, along with the House and Senate FY 2019 spending put forward by the Appropriations Committees.

The table below compares actual funding for FY 2018 with the FY 2019 302(b) allocations from the House and Senate. 

Budget Authority Allocations to Appropriations Subcommittees (billions)
Subcommittee FY 18 Enacted Level House FY 19 Senate FY 19
Agriculture $23.3 $23.3 $23.2
Commerce, Justice, Science $59.6 $65.5 $63.0
Defense $589.5 $606.5 $607.1
Energy and Water Development $43.2 $44.7 $43.8
Financial Services and General Government $23.4 $23.4 $23.7
Homeland Security $47.7 $52.5 $48.3
Interior, Environment $35.3 $35.3 $35.9
Labor, HHS, Education $177.1 $177.1 $179.3
Legislative Branch $4.7 $4.9 $4.8
Military Construction, VA $92.0 $96.9 $97.1
State, Foreign Operations $42.0 $46.0 $46.4
Transportation, HUD $70.3 $71.8 $71.4
Total $1.208 trillion $1.244 trillion $1.244 trillion

Sources: Senate Appropriations Committee, House Appropriations Committee, CBO

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.