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House Funding Allocations Highlight Squeeze on Domestic Programs

The bills funding the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, as well as the IRS and other core government functions, next year would face the biggest cuts under the House Appropriations Committee allocation of its 2016 funds among the 12 annual appropriations bills.

These allocations, which the committee approved this week, reflect the tight annual caps on discretionary funding under the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA), as further reduced by sequestration.  Along with the areas noted above, appropriations in many other areas, such as housing, also would be held to levels well below those needed to adequately serve the American people.

The Appropriations Committee based its allocations on the BCA caps with sequestration fully in place, anticipating that will be the level in the forthcoming agreement on a final 2016 budget resolution.  On a party-line vote, the committee rejected a Democratic amendment to base the allocations instead on the levels in the President’s budget, which would replace sequestration with alternate deficit reduction measures.

With sequestration fully in place, the cap on non-defense appropriations for 2016 is just 0.2 percent, or $1.1 billion, above the 2015 enacted level, which represents a 1.7 percent cut in inflation-adjusted terms.

Specifically, the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill is $3.7 billion (2.4 percent) below the 2015 level.  Thus, instead of restoring some of the previous cuts in areas such as medical research, aid to education, and job training, this allocation will force new cuts.

The second-biggest target for cuts is the Financial Services and General Government bill, which is $1.3 billion (6.1 percent) below last year.  The committee majority likely plans to take much of that cut from the IRS (which accounts for roughly half of the bill’s spending), on top of the IRS cuts enacted in prior years.

Other appropriations bills headed for shortfalls under the House allocations include the Homeland Security, Agriculture, and Interior and Environment bills, whose funding would fall below 2015 levels even before accounting for inflation or other rising costs.  And although the Transportation-HUD bill receives a $1.5 billion increase, that will fall well short of what’s needed just to sustain current rental assistance, let alone reduce previous sequestration cuts to those and other Transportation-HUD programs.

The largest funding increase comes in one of the first 2016 bills approved by the Appropriations Committee — the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill.  The veterans’ portion of that bill, which counts against the non-defense cap, provides a $3.7 billion (5.6 percent) increase over 2015 to help cover the rising cost of health care for veterans and reduce the backlog of veterans’ disability claims.  That increase, however, is still $1.4 billion below the amount proposed by the Administration.