President Trump submitted his first budget to the Congress on March 16, 2017, which totals $1.15 trillion in discretionary budget authority. As is typical with any new administration, the initial detail provided with the budget request is sparse. But, the oft referred to “skinny budget” indicates where President Trump is focusing his attention, at least at the outset of his administration.
As the President forecasted, his first budget offers a firm commitment to strengthen our military, homeland security, and first responders. National security and defense programs would increase by $54 billion above current law to $603 billion, offset by an equal reduction to non-defense programs which would receive $462 billion. Additionally, the request includes $85 billion in “emergency funding” for Overseas Contingency Operations, and is therefore not constrained under annual budget caps.
While the Congress is only just now beginning the prosecution of the fiscal year 2018 budget request, it still has 11 of the 12 fiscal year 2017 (FY17) appropriations bills to negotiate. While several appropriations bills moved through the process in both the House and/or Senate, only the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs bill has been signed into law.
All other House/Senate passed bills terminated at the end of the 114th Congress, and therefore must be reconsidered by each chamber should the Leadership decide to move the bills individually. To date, only the defense appropriations bill has moved through the House in the 115th Congress, but it now sits at the Senate for consideration.
The government continues to operate on a continuing resolution (CR) that runs through April 28, 2017. Absent additional legislation to either extend the CR or individually fund Federal agencies, the government simply shuts down. This dilemma has become the unfortunate norm of the annual appropriations cycle.
At this point in the fiscal year, all differences between House and Senate FY17 bills should be resolved, and ready for passage. But, the appropriations process is facing a near perfect storm, coupling a new Congress (including a strengthened majority) with a new President seeking to impose an entirely new agenda.
As we now enter the 3rd quarter of FY17, there are but three options available to the Congress for FY17: 1) extend the continuing resolution through September 30, 2017; 2) include the remaining 11 appropriations bills into a massive omnibus spending package, which would separately fund each Federal agency; or 3) somehow, obtain the Floor time to consider each bill, individually. The last of these options would ordinarily be most preferred, but is most unlikely given the President’s agenda and what is facing this new Congress.
Every new administration seeks to introduce itself by living up to the weighty promises made during the campaign…or at least demonstrate an intent to meet those commitments. With nearly all government agencies operating under a CR, this imperils agency funding for FY17 in that the administration’s attention is focused ahead rather than the fiscal year that started on October 1, 2016, before the election.
The FY18 budget that has been submitted appears to substantiate the promises made on the campaign trail. It is now up to the Congress to determine just how much the “domestic” programs will be leveraged as offsets for defense/national security programs. But, one thing is for sure. Limping along by way of CR between fiscal years causes turmoil and tumult within agencies, and it disrupts Congressional oversight. Recognizing the “perfect storm” that hit the FY17 appropriations process, The McKeon Group is hoping regular order will once again prevail, restoring the confidence of all Americans that Congress can indeed effectively and efficiently maintain the “power of the purse”.