• From the Desk of the Executive Director

From the Desk of the Executive Director

Congress Gets an Early Start on Fiscal Year 2019 Appropriations

By Daniel Sheehan, AFOP Executive Director

April 24, 2018

Despite the fact theink is hardly dry on last month’s fiscal year 2018 (FY18) omnibus spending law, Congress has already begun working on the coming fiscal year’s regular appropriations, including those for the National Farmworker Jobs Program(NFJP) (Program Year 2019; July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020).  Hoping to avoid the need for another year-end omnibus spending package, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have been holding hearings and will soon begin marking up their respective spending measures.  The House hopes to mark up some of the “easier” spending bills this week, while the Senate will likely start on its bills in early June, significantly ahead of schedule.  As is typical, however, the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education bill that carries NFJP funding – always “difficult” because of abortion and other hot button issues – is unlikely to see any action until this summer, at the very earliest.

The first step in yearly appropriations process is supposed to be both houses of Congress concurring in a budget resolution setting overall revenue and spending levels for the coming fiscal year.  That agreement is not entirely necessary this year, however, because February’s Bipartisan Budget Actset spending caps for both FY18 and FY19, giving lawmakers little incentive to produce an FY19 budget (and cast all the painful votes that would go along with it).  The House, out of principle, may move its budget blueprint, but the Senate will not.

Although Congress is required to adopt a budget resolution by April 15 of each year, it faces no penalty for not meeting the deadline or even producing a budget at all.  In fact, according to one news source, Congress has only met this deadline four times since it became law in 1985. In addition, failing to pass a FY19 budget plan does not stop Congress from working on and passing FY19 appropriations bills.  Each chamber only must produce a so-called “deeming resolution” setting its own respective spending totals.  Forging ahead without a budget plan, though, would come at a significant cost.  Not only would that complicate efforts to finalize FY19 appropriations, it would also mean that Republicans could not avail themselves of a process known as reconciliation that allows measures with a budgetary impact (like tax cuts and decreases in entitlements) to pass the Senate with only a simple majority (instead of the usual 60-vote threshold required in that chamber).

To expedite FY19 appropriations, House leaders may bundle groups of bills into so-called “mini-buses” and send them to the floor in May and June. This timelines could easily slip, however.  Indeed, many in Washington already predict Congress will resort in early September to a stopgap spending bill (called a “continuing resolution”) to keep the government open after the start of the new fiscal year, October 1.  If that turns out to be the case, we will not know the NFJP FY19 appropriationuntil some point after the November congressional elections.