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Policy Focus: Congress Debates Next Year’s Budget

April 2014

There is a lot happening on Capitol Hill. Here is the latest.

Budget and Appropriations

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) released the fiscal year 2015 budget proposal on April 1. The budget adheres to the caps established in the Bipartisan Budget Act that Ryan negotiated with his Senate counterpart, Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), for FY 2015. However, for FY 2016 and beyond, the budget includes the same type of devastating cuts that have characterized his budgets over the last few years, except even more draconian. Sixty-nine percent of the budget’s $4.8 trillion non-defense cuts are to low-income programs.

Ryan proposes to balance the budget within ten years, but the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently projected deficits $1 trillion higher over the next decade, requiring hundreds of billions of dollars more in savings. To do so without raising any additional revenue,  the budget cuts non-defense appropriated spending programs (most federal programs outside defense, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, SNAP, and other entitlements) to 1.7 percent of GDP — less than half of what it was under President Reagan. Ryan’s budget also cuts SNAP (formerly food stamps) by at least $137 billion, turns it into a block grant, and makes all the bad policy changes that were proposed in the House nutrition bill in 2013. The CBO estimated that those policy changes would kick nearly 4 million people off SNAP. Moreover, Ryan’s budget cuts the International Affairs budget by a devastating 11 percent, diminishing that total budget by 24 percent compared to 2010.

After debating for almost ten hours, the House Budget Committee passed the resolution along party lines by a vote of 22-16. The measure is expected to go to the House floor this week, and it could be a relatively close, but easily passable, vote. While 62 House Republicans voted against the Ryan-Murray deal, many are expected to vote for Ryan’s budget even though it adheres to that deal. Leadership can afford to lose 16 votes and still have enough votes for House passage. The House budget is not expected to pass the Senate.

Since the Ryan-Murray budget deal established the top-line spending levels back in December, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray will not release a budget resolution but instead will release a set of principles.

In addition to and separate from the budget, Chairmen Ryan and Murray are expected to release their own anti-poverty policy proposals. In late March, Murray released a bill to expand the earned income tax credit for childless workers.

Poverty-Focused Development Assistance (PFDA)

Ryan's FY 2015 budget resolution recommends $45 billion for the International Affairs budget, including $39.1 billion in base funding. This is an 11 percent cut compared to FY 2014 enacted funding and the administration’s FY 2015 request. If the International Affairs budget is reduced, funding for humanitarian and PFDA programs would likely be cut as well, leaving accounts such as global health, development assistance, and humanitarian aid especially vulnerable to further reductions.  

On the Appropriations end, the House Appropriations Committee is expected to release its 302(b) allocations this week, which set spending caps for each of the appropriations bills, including the State-Foreign Operations (SFOPS) bill. This bill determines the funding levels for many humanitarian and poverty-focused development assistance programs.

Unemployment Insurance

After a number of attempts and repeated efforts at negotiation, the Senate finally passed a bill that would retroactively extend emergency unemployment benefits. Now it is up to the House to take action and pass the bill. Since federal emergency unemployment assistance expired on Dec. 28, over two million unemployed workers have been cut off from aid. Federal emergency unemployment insurance provides a specific number of additional weeks of assistance for those who have been laid off through no fault of their own and still can’t find work after 26 weeks. If Congress fails to extend unemployment insurance, then nearly 5 million laid off workers will lose assistance by the end of the year.

Photo: What happens today in Congress with the budget will determine the state of hunger in places like Swaziland for years to come. Stephen Padre/Bread for the World

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