Update from Washington, D.C.
March 28, 2019
White House Releases Full Text of FY 2020 Budget Request
Last week, the White House released the complete details of President Trump’s fiscal year 2020 budget proposal (as reported in a previous edition of the Legislative Bulletin, the administration released a bare-bones budget outline on March 11). The roughly $4.7 trillion spending plan calls for increased investments in defense and border security alongside steep cuts to many domestic discretionary programs.
All told, the administration is proposing to boost funding for the Department of Defense (DoD) by nearly five percent. Under the fiscal blueprint, Pentagon spending would rise from $716 billion in the current year to $750 billion in fiscal year 2020.
In addition to DoD, the budgets for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Veterans Affairs would receive increases (+ 7 and 8 percent, respectively). As part of the DHS budget, the president is requesting $8.6 billion for southwest border wall construction activities. Inclusion of the funding sets the stage for another potential year-end showdown with congressional Democrats over border security and immigration policy.
Overall, the president’s proposal calls for reducing non-defense discretionary spending from $597 billion to just $543 billion – or a nine percent cut. When disaster-relief funding is factored in, the total domestic spending reduction recommended by the White House would amount to a roughly five percent decrease.
It should be noted that several cabinet-level departments and stand-alone agencies would bear the brunt of the administration’s domestic spending cuts. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – along with the Departments of Transportation (DOT), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Health and Human Services (HHS) – would see double-digit percentage reductions (EPA – 30 percent; DOT – 21 percent; HUD – 16 percent; HHS – 12 percent).
With regard to entitlements, the president is calling for a total of $2.1 trillion in long-term cuts to mandatory safety net programs, including reductions to Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The White House also is proposing to give states the option to receive foster care funding in a flexible block grant, the effect of which would be a decrease in federal investment for foster care programs.
Given the divided Congress and highly-charged political climate ahead of next year’s presidential election, the administration’s budget plan will serve as more of a symbolic representation of the president’s policy priorities than the actual starting place for upcoming spending decisions. Indeed, the job of crafting the fiscal year 2020 budget – which is comprised of 12 separate funding measures – is the responsibility of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee.
Congress Begins Review of Trump Budget
In the Senate, eight separate Appropriations subcommittees met this week to review key portions of the Trump administration’s budget proposal. Appearing before Senate appropriators to defend the president’s plan were several top administration officials, including the secretaries of DOT, Energy, and Education. Additional hearings in the upper chamber are planned for next week and beyond, with committee-level action on individual spending measures expected to occur in April and May.
Across Capitol Hill, the House Appropriations Committee held over 20 budget-related hearings this week as lawmakers received testimony from a number of cabinet heads, Pentagon officials, and other agency leaders. Several subcommittees also held “Member Day Hearings,” which provide a forum for rank-and-file lawmakers to offer direct input into the appropriations process.
Looking ahead, the most immediate challenge facing appropriators will be developing individual spending bills absent a clear expectation of how much money they will have to work with in fiscal year 2020. Although the Budget Control Act’s strict spending caps are back in force for the 2020 budget year, it is widely expected that lawmakers will reach some sort of deal – as they have in past budget cycles – to raise the caps. As of this writing, however, no consensus has emerged regarding how much additional funding might be made available for both defense and non-defense programs.
House Committee Approves Homelessness Legislation –Senate Bill Awaits Introduction
Led by Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), this week the House Financial Services Committee adopted along party lines (32-26) the Ending Homelessness Act of 2019 (H.R. 1856). Supported by CSAC, the measure would invest a total of $13.27 billion over five years in a number of programs to prevent and respond to homelessness. The legislation would fund emergency relief grants in high needs areas; create new public housing assistance vouchers; increase and preserve rental units; and, fund outreach and service coordination initiatives, including critically important activities under Medicaid/Medi-Cal.
On the Senate side, CSAC is working closely with Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office as she finalizes her bill, the Fighting Homelessness Through Services and Housing Act. Her measure would authorize $750 million in competitive grants for each of five years for counties and other local governments to invest in a range of activities – from capital construction to providing comprehensive services to prevent homelessness. The legislation would require the grantee to develop a plan demonstrating how it would work with local stakeholders to combat homelessness in the area.