Congress Raises Spending Caps, Appropriators Go Back to Work

A two-year deal to relieve federal programs from the bulk of sequester spending caps was announced on October 26, passed by both chambers of Congress by October 30, and sent to President Barack Obama for his signature. For FY16, the Balanced Budget Act (BBA) provides $33 billion more for nondefense discretionary (NDD) programs than would have been available if the sequester caps had remained in place. Raising of the caps is a victory for housing and other advocates who have worked together through NDD United to demand that the cuts imposed on FY16 by sequestration be reversed.  Senate and House appropriators now have the opportunity to fix key shortfalls in their respective FY16 HUD funding bills, including protecting the dedicated revenue for the National Housing Trust Fund.

On October 30, the Senate passed the measure, H.R. 1314, by a vote of 64 to 35. All Democrats and 17 Republicans voted for the bill, while 35 Republicans opposed it. The House passed the bill on October 28 by a vote of 266 to 167. All House Democrats supported the bill, as did 67 Republicans.

Passage of the BBA, which provides equal relief from the sequester caps for both defense and nondefense discretionary programs, now sets the stage for Congress to pass all 12 appropriations bills, including the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) bill, by December 11, when the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires. The CR has kept federal programs funded, preventing a government shutdown, absent FY16 appropriations bills.

Appropriators will now determine new allocations for the 12 subcommittees. There will not be new separate Senate and House subcommittee allocations, known as 302bs.  Instead there will be identical new 302b allocations for each of the subcommittees from which to prepare new spending bills. One omnibus spending bill that includes all twelve appropriations bills is expected. While the new 302b for the THUD subcommittee would give advocates an indication of how much HUD programs could increase, it is unclear if the 302b allocations will be made public until after the omnibus itself is released, perhaps around Thanksgiving.

The additional $33 billion for sequester relief represents 90% of what President Barack Obama requested in his FY16 budget. While significant, it does not make up for the losses to NDD programs in recent years. According to Center on Budget and Policy Priorities President Robert Greenstein, “NDD funding under this deal would still be low in historical terms.  Even with the sequestration relief provided, NDD funding for 2016 would be twelve percent below the 2010 level, adjusted for inflation.”

The BBA agreement does not include any of the contentious policy changes written into appropriations bills, known as riders, which have slowed down the FY16 appropriations process. The President has vowed to veto any appropriations bill with riders. How negotiations over these riders progress could have an impact on how and when an omnibus spending bill is considered in the Senate and House.

In a statement after the House’s passage, NLIHC president and CEO Sheila Crowley said, “I applaud the White House and House and Senate leaders of both parties for coming together to produce a bipartisan bill that reflects the best interests of the American people. I am hopeful that the budget deal will pave the way for addressing the inadequate House and Senate HUD appropriations bills, which were written earlier this year to comply with the austere sequester spending caps.”

As negotiations on the THUD bill shift into high-gear, now is the time for advocates to communicate with their Senators and Representatives about the need for sufficient funding for housing, homeless, and community development programs. NLIHC issued a “Call to Action” on October 29 urging advocates to contact the members of their Congressional delegations immediately.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities statement is at:

The NLIHC statement is at:

The NLIHC action alert is at: