Budgets 101: The FY2014 Process
By Robin Stephenson
The fiscal year 2014 budget resolutions from both the House and Senate budget committees are now public record. Yesterday, President Obama introduced his budget proposal. These three budgets may seem confusing because they make very different choices on spending, cuts, and taxes. We will explain what it all means, what’s next, and why hunger advocates should care.
It’s important for advocates who care about hunger issues to understand budgets because they set the foundation for policy that either addresses or ignores hunger and poverty. Combined with spending caps and the automatic cuts created through sequestration as part of the Budget Control Act, the FY2014 budget will be an important legislative vehicle to watch. Faithful advocates must demand a balanced approach with love of neighbor at its center. Budgets are moral documents that reflect our national priorities.
The House budget, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), is bad news for poor and vulnerable populations. If enacted, it would dramatically increase poverty. By balancing the budget in 10 years without raising revenue, the proposal from Ryan, who is House Budget Committee chairman, prioritizes defense spending and decimates programs that alleviate hunger (such as SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which would force millions back into poverty. While defense spending receives $550 billion more than under sequestration, non-defense discretionary spending is cut $700 billion below sequestration levels, forcing cuts to programs including poverty -focused development assistance and the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)—both of which save lives and provide stepping stones out of poverty.
It is currently unlikely that we’ll see such draconian cuts become reality through this budget process. The Senate’s resolution, by contrast, reflects a more balanced approach and, unlike the House version, replaces sequestration, the automatic cuts currently in effect (see a side-by-side comparison of the two budget proposals).
Resolutions set the overall budget amount (302 A allocation). The Appropriations Committee receives that total amount from the 302A allocation and then divides it up into 12 smaller pots for each of the appropriations subcommittees. Then the subcommittees further divide their pots among the different programs during the appropriations process. Budget resolutions are funding recommendations, not laws that will be signed by the president. Yet to move the process forward to appropriations, the House and Senate must pass identical versions by conference.As the chart indicates, there is a lot of distance between the House and Senate FY 14 budget resolutions. The budget that the president released yesterday makes vastly different choices as well, and proposes a grand bargain that would replace sequestration.
There are several different ways the budget may move forward to the appropriations process. Some in Congress are calling for a conference process, which could help lead to the grand bargain that reforms entitlements but also raises revenue. If the conference process fails to go anywhere, Congress could try to reach a grand bargain by passing a stand-alone bill. But if Congress can’t reach a deal on taxes and entitlements by summer, then it is likely we will see sequestration—which cuts vital programs for hungry and poor people—continue. Bread for the World encourages a balanced approach that replaces sequestration and protects programs that end hunger.
If the House and Senate fail to agree on a joint budget resolution, then they have to pass a deeming resolution so appropriators can start the appropriations process and decide funding levels for federal programs.
If Congress cannot pass all 12 appropriations bills in a timely fashion (by October 1—the start of the fiscal year), they may pass an omnibus spending bill. This is where they roll many spending bills into one to set the budgets of individual departments and programs.
Otherwise, if the October deadline is not met, Congress would need to agree to a continuing resolution to prevent the government from shutting down. This would extend budget levels based on the previous year’s allocations, but still subject to spending caps and sequestration.
So, if a resolution is just a suggestion, and it is not clear that a final FY14 budget will go to appropriators anytime soon, why should it matter? Deficit reduction happens outside of the budget process as well. Other vehicles, like the farm bill, are informed by proposals that have already been introduced and passed in the budget.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R- Kan.) recently introduced a bill that would cut $36 billion dollars from the SNAP program. The cuts outlined in this bill are similar to those proposed in both this year’s and last year’s House budget resolutions. If these proposed cuts are allowed to become the new normal and our leaders are met with public silence, they will believe that there is no political cost associated with proposals that harm vulnerable populations.
As the process continues, Bread for the World will send out action alerts and ask for our members to loudly call for a replacement of the sequester with a comprehensive, balanced, and bipartisan approach to deficit reduction. Any package that replaces sequestration must protect programs for hungry and poor people and include increased revenue. We must be vigilant in these efforts. The longer Congress waits to reach a deal and replace sequestration, the more likely these cuts will remain in place for the long term.
Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.
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