Monday, April 13, 2009

Legislative update: Budget and Appropriations

Congress adjourned for a two-week recess on April 3 after a contentious week of long debates in both the House and Senate regarding a fiscal year 2010 budget resolution. At the end of the week, the resolutions adopted were similar but not identical. The House expressed a willingness to spend approximately $8 billion more on domestic discretionary programs in FY 2010 than the Senate. The House also appeared more willing to set bi-partisanship aside to enact health care and student loan reform legislation via the budget process. Final details of the FY 2010 budget resolution will be decided during the week of April 20, when members return to Capitol Hill.

The adoption of a budget resolution clears the way for the appropriations committees to meet and distribute what are called the "302 B allocations" to each subcommittee. It is anticipated that the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee will receive a relatively generous allocation, perhaps as much as an 8 percent increase over FY 2009. Once allocations are decided, the hard work of dividing up funding among programs at the departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services begins. Congress will wait for budget details from the administration before those details are made public or finalized. That information should reach Capitol Hill by mid May.

Congressional leaders have made it clear that the goal is to finish the budget and appropriations process by Sept. 30, the last day of the current fiscal year. That means mark-ups and floor debates will be held during June and July, and final conferencing and adoption of spending bills will take place in the early fall. It is an ambitious schedule given all the other legislative priorities that have been announced, such as reforming the health care system, reinventing the student loan program, enacting climate change and other energy-related policies, plus a long list of tax considerations. The backdrop to all this activity is the effort from government agencies to distribute, and states to spend, the funding made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The next recess period comes at the end of May, and for many that won't be soon enough.

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