Danger Ahead

Categories: Budget, The Insider

With looming budget cuts, various anti-public servant bills, and a threat of a government shutdown, the next couple of weeks will be crucial for federal employees, their agencies, and the public they serve.   

What President Trump and his allies in Congress want to do is clear: dismantle government functions, starve agencies so they can’t properly function and become ripe for privatization, gut public servants’ worker protections, and bust their unions.    

Here’s a recap of important dates and an explainer on the budget process and a possible legislative vehicle they could be using to pass bad bills:  

January 23: President Trump signs executive order freezing federal hiring. 

March 13: Trump unveiled his first budget, proposing deep cuts to most agencies, including crucial public health agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health.  

March 24: A bill to repeal Obamacare was pulled from the House floor as it faced certain defeat. 

March 26: President Trump details Jared Kushner to head up office to incorporate private sector business practices to 'reimagine government'  

April 28: Deadline for Congress to pass a spending measure to fund the government. If no spending measure is passed, the government will shut down as the current short-term spending measure called Continuing Resolution (CR) runs out. They can pass another CR to avoid a shutdown.  

Oct. 1: The 2018 fiscal year starts.   

President Trump Has Proposed His Budget, Now What? The Budget Process, Explained. 

The White House’s budget proposal is just the first step of a months-long process to fund the government and decide the upcoming year’s priorities. Here’s an explainer on how Congress passes a budget and a special procedure to speed up the process and bypass the minority.   

Step 1: The White House’s Budget Request 

The President submits a budget request to Congress detailing his priorities and spending levels for agencies and programs for the next fiscal year. Usually this is done the first Monday of February, but when there’s a new administration, the date often slips. The President’s budget is simply a request. Congress may or may not share his view on priorities.    

Step 2: The Congressional Budget Resolution 

Congress responds to the President’s budget request. The House and Senate Budget Committees separately draft their budget blueprints called budget resolutions. They may incorporate ideas from the President’s budget if the President’s party controls one or both houses on Congress.   

Once the resolutions pass the committees, they go to the full House and Senate. After the House and Senate pass their versions, they iron out differences between the two bills. The final version of the bill then goes to the House and Senate for a vote.    

A budget resolution is a budget blueprint that sets the total funding level for the upcoming fiscal year. It usually includes policy proposals that reflect the majority’s priorities. A budget resolution needs only a simple majority vote to pass, or just 51 votes in the Senate.   

Congress is supposed to pass a budget resolution by April 15, but the date often slips. After the final version of the budget resolution is agreed to by both chambers, they have an option of using a special tool called “budget reconciliation” (explained more in detail below) to enact certain parts of the budget resolution. Budget reconciliation needs only a simple majority vote to pass.  

Step 3: Congressional Appropriations  

Once the budget resolution is adopted, the funding process moves to the House and Senate appropriations committees to determine program-by-program funding levels. Separately, the House and Senate appropriations committees divide the allocation into 12 subcommittees that oversee various programs and agencies. The subcommittees usually hold public hearings and invite stakeholders to testify on funding levels they’d like to see. Lawmakers outside of the subcommittees can also chime in.    

After the subcommittee passes the appropriations bill, the full committee takes it up. They usually offer amendments and so-called “policy riders” that change levels of funding. The bill then goes to the full House and Senate.    

All 12 appropriations are supposed to be passed and signed into law by Oct. 1 when the next fiscal year begins. If they can’t pass the 12 appropriations bills in time, they have an option of lumping them into an “omnibus bill.” An omnibus bill could be a good tool or a bad tool depending on whom you ask. It speeds things up and allows members to vote yes on the bill with parts they may have a hard time justifying if they were part of a smaller bill. It also makes it harder for the President to veto such a large bill even though he disagrees with some parts of it.   

If time is running out and Congress doesn’t want to pass an omnibus bill, it can pass a CR instead and finish their 12 appropriations bills even though that means several months delay.   

Whatever form the spending measure takes, it then goes to the President for his signature or veto. His veto can be overturned by a two-thirds majority in both houses.   

A special tool called Budget Reconciliation  

To speed things up, Congress may use a procedure called budget reconciliation. To do this, after they pass a budget resolution, they include a “reconciliation directive” to direct certain committees to come up with legislation that change funding levels for certain programs to reflect the targets in the budget resolution.   

The Budget Committee then lumps these bills into one bill and sends it to the House and Senate floors for a vote.  The two chambers resolve their differences and produce a conference report, which then goes back to the floor. Budget reconciliation needs only a simple majority vote to pass. It cannot be "filibustered" -- a tactic used in the Senate to prevent a measure from being brought to a vote by extending debate on the measure. After it passes, it goes to the President for his signature or veto.    

Budget reconciliation was designed as a deficit reduction tool to force committees to cut spending and increase taxes called for in the budget resolution. But during the Bush administration, Congress used this procedure several times to cut taxes, increasing deficits. The House prohibits using it to increase mandatory spending such as Medicare and Medicaid.    

Congress may attempt to use budget reconciliation to pass certain bills 

Members of Congress tried and failed to use the budget reconciliation process to pass a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. They may use the procedure to cut public servants’ pension and health care benefits. 

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