Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By | February 25, 2015

Appropriations Committees Begin Hearings on Fiscal Year 2016 Budget; New Report Details Impact of Sequestration on Non-Defense Programs

Members of Congress resumed their review of President Obama’s fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget this week as appropriations committee leaders warned their colleagues not to expect spending increases. At a House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-AL) said, “I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news but I do want to remind everyone that our overall funding allocation will likely remain the same as it has been for the last year.” Aderholt added that federal agencies will be pushed to justify requests for increased funding but should also be prepared for cuts given that the House Budget Committee is expected to ensure domestic spending remains flat compared with FY 2015. Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) made similar comments speculating that Obama’s request for a $74 billion increase in discretionary spending isn’t likely to gain much traction in a Congress still focused on reining in the national debt. “We’re probably not going to have as much money as the president’s budget spends,” Simpson said.

The half dozen cabinet officials and agency directors who appeared at nearly twenty House Appropriations Committee hearings this week faced tough questions about their budget requests. They were urged to manage their expectations regarding the availability of money for new programs. Among those who testified were Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. In addition, Dr. France Cordova went before the House Science Committee to discuss the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) FY 2016 funding priorities.

Several of the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees also posted notices soliciting testimony on FY 2016 funding requests from stakeholders and other groups. Requests related to the Department of Energy Office of Science must be sent to the Senate Energy and Water Subcommittee no later than March 20. The deadline to submit testimony to the House Agriculture Subcommittee is March 23. Statements in support of NSF are due to the Senate Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee by March 27. Other subcommittees are expected to announce their deadlines soon. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology will submit testimony to the relevant panels that fund the federal science agencies.

The increased level of activity among the appropriations committees is a clear signal that congressional leaders are serious about their intent to pass the 12 spending bills individually rather than resort to an omnibus package at the end of the fiscal year. Last year, the House approved only seven bills and the Senate approved none. It remains to be seen whether Congress will be able to achieve this goal, especially as the threat of sequestration returns. A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that although no across-the-board cuts will be required in 2016, the overall post-sequester discretionary spending cap is nearly 20 percent below the comparable 2010 level after adjusting for inflation. Policymakers face tough choices unless they agree to an alternative plan to achieve the savings required by the Budget Control Act of 2011.