Congress on Track to Pass A Budget Blueprint; Acting Secretary Named At Department of Health and Human Services
Six months behind schedule, the House and Senate are moving forward on the fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget resolution. Congress typically passes an annual budget resolution in April to provide an overall fiscal blueprint and spending guidance to the appropriation committees. Given that FY 2018 began October 1 and preliminary decisions have already been made about funding levels for federal agencies, adopting a budget resolution now creates a vehicle to eventually allow the Senate to pass tax reform legislation with only 51 votes. Congressional leaders and President Trump indicated they want to work together to enact changes in the tax code before next year.
On October 5, the House passed H Con Res 71 by a narrow vote of 219-206. The budget outline specified $621.5 billion for defense programs, an increase of $72.5 billion, which violates the current spending cap. Non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending would be reduced to $511 billion ($5 billion below FY 2017) under the House budget.
During the debate, the House rejected an alternative proposal from House Budget Committee Democrats, who requested $603 billion for defense and $570 billion for NDD (a $54 billion increase for each compared to FY 2017). Those spending levels would effectively erase the upcoming FY 2018 sequestration cuts unless the caps are raised. The Democrats’ proposed increases may become a starting point for negotiations expected later this fall on adjusting the budget caps.
The Senate Budget Committee’s FY 2018 budget resolution sets topline spending at $549 billion for defense and $516 billion for NDD consistent with the caps specified in the Budget Control Act. A Senate vote on the budget resolution could take place the week of October 16.
Further work on FY 2018 spending bills is on hold until the House and Senate agree on a budget framework, or appropriators receive further instructions from their leadership. In the meantime, the Appropriations Committee turned their attention to providing funds for states affected by recent natural disasters.
Following a trip to Puerto Rico, the Trump administration requested more than $29 billion in disaster aid to repair Hurricane Maria damage and nearly $600 million for western states battling wildfires. On October 10, the House Appropriations Committee released the text of a bill allocating $36.5 billion in supplemental emergency funding to “continue immediate relief efforts and help jump-start the rebuilding process.” As noted in the committee’s press release, “the legislation closely mirrors the funding requests submitted to Congress from the administration.” The House approved the bill on October 12; it is not clear when the Senate will vote on the package.
In other news, the Senate confirmed Eric Hargan as the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by a vote of 57-38. Hargan served in several senior positions at HHS under President George W. Bush and on the Trump transition team. The president named Hargan as Acting Secretary of HHS on October 3, replacing Don Wright, who was briefly charged with leading the department following HHS Secretary Tom Price’s resignation in late September.