The United States government runs on a fiscal year that
begins on 1 October and ends 30 September of the following year. The
appropriations process for FY2019 is therefore already in full swing as
Congress tries to meet the 30 September deadline. The process usually starts
even sooner but was delayed due to Congress not passing a final FY2018
appropriations bill until the end of March.
The Congressional appropriations process is important to
monitor because it will ultimately decide which areas of the government receive
or lose funding for the upcoming year.
For mobility, the amount of funding for agencies such as
Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) can have a direct impact on the
movement of people. Also, the lack of an agreement on funding can lead to a
partial government shutdown, which can result longer processing times for
business visas and complications on verifying social security numbers for
transferees securing mortgages.
U.S. government spending is broken up into two main
categories, “mandatory” and “discretionary” spending. Mandatory spending is for
entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and the Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Funding from these programs are mandated
by law and thus legislators do not have the power to adjust these funding
levels on a year by year basis. Discretionary spending is the portion of the
federal budget that is decided on by Congress every year through the appropriations
The appropriations process is started every year by the President,
who is expected to release a budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year sometime
in early February. The release of a budget plan gives insight as to what the
administration’s spending priorities are for the upcoming year. The budget plan
is only the beginning, and usually the final spending package looks quite
different once it has gone through the appropriations process.
After receiving the President’s proposal, Congressional Budget
Committees are then supposed to propose budget resolutions which “establishes
various budget totals, divides spending totals into functional categories
(e.g., transportation).” Once the budget resolutions are passed, the
discretionary spending is broken up amongst the twelve different appropriations
These subcommittees will then hold hearings on the
allocation of the budget within their jurisdiction. Each subcommittee sends a
spending bill to the full Appropriations Committee for a full Committee markup.
After any additional changes are made, these bills will be passed out of the
Appropriations Committee and sent to the floor for consideration by the full
House and Senate.
When these bills are passed, the differences between the
House and Senate versions get worked out in a conference committee which has
representatives from both chambers. After conference committee, the final bills
will need to once again be passed by both the House and Senate before being
sent on to the President to be signed.
has not been keeping with the traditional appropriations process or calendar. Despite
the FY2019 appropriations season being in full swing, Congress only completed
FY2018 funding at the end of March. Over the past year, Congress had passed
multiple Continuing Resolutions (CRs), five to be exact, which were stopgap
measures that keep the government open (funded) without having an official
budget deal in place. These CRs were necessary because Congress had not been
able to pass any of the twelve appropriations Bills.
On 9 February 2018,
Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. In addition to serving as another CR, the
Bipartisan Budget Act also funded the government through 23 March 2018 and increased
the budget caps that were currently in place for both defense and non-defense
funding. The Bipartisan Budget Act set up Congress to pass a massive, $1.3
trillion Omnibus Spending Bill, finally closing out FY2018. This larger
package is called an Omnibus because it spans multiple budget areas in one Bill
as opposed to the twelve individual bills that might be seen during regular
The Omnibus package
extended government funding through 30 September 2018. As the appropriations
process continues to play out for FY2019, it remains to be seen if the
appropriations process will go through regular order or if this fall, there
will once again be a series of CRs. Complicating factors a bit more is that
this November there are midterm elections coming up, so Congress is less likely
to want to have ongoing, highly political budget negotiations.
Despite having a very detailed process to follow, the
timeline of the appropriations process remains unpredictable. However, being an
election year, congressional leaders will likely try hard to avoid a potential
government shutdown and thus the consideration of a CR or series of CRs is
again likely 30 September and the end of the year.