• Outlook for the Consolidated Appropriations Act
  • January 17, 2014
  • Law Firm: McDonald Hopkins LLC - Cleveland Office
  • Background

    When Congress and the White House failed to pass annual spending bills funding government operations last October, the resulting lapse caused a federal government shutdown that lasted 16 days. It ended when Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act that, among other things, funded federal agencies until Jan. 15.

    Since adoption of the Bipartisan Budget Act, Congress and the White House have resolved to avoid another shutdown, aiming to pass government spending bills by the Jan. 15 deadline. Budget writers Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) came to an agreement—later passed by the House and Senate—that set the overall discretionary spending level at $1.012 trillion for Fiscal Year 2014. But the Murray/Ryan agreement was only a blueprint. The details of how the $1.012 trillion would be divided between departments, agencies, offices, and functions fell to the House and Senate Appropriations Committee.

    Recent developments

    For the past three weeks, appropriators have been burning the midnight oil to find agreements. Panel chairmen and their staff were able to reach consensus on spending levels over the course of the past month. More difficult of a task to undertake are the policy provisions that instruct—or outright prohibit—agencies on how to use funds on a specific function.

    Spending levels

    Congress has merged 12 different spending bills into a single one, called the Consolidated Appropriations Act (or “Omnibus”). Here are the spending levels for each division of the bill:

    $145.7 billion for the Department of Agriculture, FDA and Rural Development
    $51.6 billion for Departments of Commerce and Justice and science agencies
    $572 billion for the Department of Defense
    $34.1 billion for the Department of Energy and Army Corps of Engineers
    $43 billion for the agencies in the Department of Treasury and financial agencies
    $46.6 billion for the Department of Homeland Security
    $30.1 billion for the Department of Interior and EPA
    $156.8 billion for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education
    $4.3 billion for the Legislative Branch
    $158 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction activity
    $49 billion for the Department of State and other foreign assistance
    $104.3 billion for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development

    The Omnibus also includes roughly $98 billion for disaster assistance and war spending not subject to the $1.012 trillion cap.

    Policy provisions

    The Omnibus does not block implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Dodd Frank Act or EPA regulations on carbon emissions, power plants and other proposals. It does, however, include prohibitions on federal funding for abortions, the closing of Guantanamo Bay and new high-speed rail.

    Outlook

    With the 1600 page bill being revealed Monday night, members are still digesting the information. Many Republicans are disappointed the final agreement permits the federal government to implement the ACA, Dodd Frank and environmental rules. Many Democrats are disappointed the bill cuts education and scientific research. But most reports indicate these reservations are not enough to prevent quick passage of the bill. In an election year, neither party wants to be blamed for another government shutdown.

    Before passage of the Omnibus, however, Congress must buy itself a three-day extension on its self-imposed spending deadline while the larger spending package is debated in Congress. The House passed the three-day extension yesterday, with the Senate expected to follow suit today.

    Today, the House will begin and complete consideration of the Omnibus itself. The Senate is expected to begin deliberation of the Omnibus tonight after House passage, with the hopes to approve the measure on Friday. However, as is always the case with the Senate, members seeking to amend the bill may be able to block consideration. Most expect quick passage.