Policymakers should reach agreement on lifting the annual caps on total defense and non-defense funding before they leave for their August recess, so they can complete the appropriations bills in a timely way this fall — without the brinkmanship and uncertainty that can disrupt important government services. Freezing funding at 2019 levels, as some suggest, would shortchange non-defense programs and leave key investments underfunded. Policymakers should instead build on the last bipartisan agreement, which boosted funding for non-defense programs in 2018 and 2019 and began to reverse the federal disinvestment that started in 2011.
The House has already passed 10 of its 12 appropriations bills and advanced the other two — and, in total, they increase 2020 non-defense funding by 7.0 percent over the current level, or 4.4 percent after adjusting for inflation. Even with this increase, non-defense appropriations as a share of the economy would be below the 2010 level and near their historic low under that measure, with data back to 1976. The House bills would make important investments in key areas and show how additional resources can address pressing needs:
If policymakers don’t reach a deal to raise the caps and instead rely on a full-year continuing resolution (CR) that effectively freezes funding at the 2019 level, some may argue that they can still address many of these priorities through “anomalies” — a common budget procedure through which policymakers adjust funding for certain accounts in a CR — rather than applying a CR’s default of freezing all appropriations accounts. But, with a freeze CR, anomalies that increase some programs would force corresponding reductions in other programs, leaving them funded below their 2019 levels.
The President and congressional leaders need to negotiate a new budget deal, just as their predecessors have done every time one was needed since the funding caps were first imposed.