Following months of debate, continuing resolutions, and a last-minute veto threat, Congress finally passed an omnibus appropriation bill last Friday. The 2,232 page, $1.3 trillion spending bill covers each of the government's major areas of discretionary spending, from the military to healthcare. President Trump signed the behemoth bill and narrowly avoided 2018’s third federal government shutdown. So, that’s it, right? Well, not exactly. The bill that just became law was the budget bill for the fiscal year 2018 which ends on September 31, 2018. So what happens October 1, 2018, you might wonder. We’ll have to wait and see, but it should be a whole new budget. So, while we are done worrying about 2018, we are really just getting started.
Although we don’t see it often, there is a regular order to Congressional budget making. The process begins over the summer as agencies begin to formulate their budget requests and submit them to the President by December or early January at the latest. These requests are compiled and edited before being submitted on the first Monday in February as the President’s budget (although we have seen this date extended over recent years). Simultaneously, the Congressional budget committees work on producing a budget resolution which, while not legally binding, sets up the guidelines for the appropriation committees regarding maximum spending and saving. The 12 appropriation committees, in both chambers, then work to write spending bills to fund the government (its agencies) at the levels outlined in the budget resolution. If all goes well, the spending bills are passed out of each committee, in each chamber and ultimately sent the budget to the President for signature. However, as we have often written, few things follow regular order these days on the Hill.
2018’s lengthy budgetary process has pushed well into the budgetary timeline, as outlined above, for the 2019 budget; consequently, lawmakers now need to scurry to get ahead to meet their deadlines. Or do they? Although the President submitted his 2019 budget in early February, the same month’s CR set top-line spending numbers for the fiscal year 2019. This action would seem to make any budget resolution activity unnecessary as the goal of that process has already been met. So does that mean that the appropriation committees have already begun work on their 2019 bills? We sure hope so. But even if they have, for advocates and budget hawks, it’s still just the beginning.
*Contributing Author: West Connors