U.S. FY2019 Appropriations Process in Full Swing

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.

How This Impacts Mobility

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.

How the Appropriations Process Works

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 process.

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 subcommittees.

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.

A Drawn Out FY2018 Appropriations Process

Recently, Congress 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 order.

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.

Partial Government Shutdown Unlikely for FY2019

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.

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