Skip to content

How Can Congress Agree to Appropriations for FY 21?

April 24, 2020

Q: Congress must act on FY 21 appropriations. What are the possible ways for Congress to address this?

A: Congress must decide if they will do substantive work on the 12 appropriations bills with the goal of passing full-year funding bills before October 1. One alternative would be to fund the beginning of the fiscal year with a Continuing Resolution that runs until November 20 (two full work weeks after the election) or December 18 (three full weeks after Thanksgiving). Another alternative would be to enact a Continuing Resolution that runs through early next year — maybe as early as February 1 or as late as March 30. This would let the new Congress decide its FY 21 funding priorities.

Still, a different possibility might be a combination of these approaches. Straightforward full-year funding bills could pass before October 1 or be put in a Continuing Resolution. The rest of the bill might continue level funding for the rest of the government with exceptions (called anomalies) to provide more or less funding for some agencies.

Q: If Congress attempts to adopt full-year funding bills, what budget cap constraints will need to be addressed?

A: Last year, Congress broke a long-running stalemate by agreeing to budget caps for FY 20 and FY 21. They decided to front-load the increases, making spending decisions (relatively) easier for FY 20 and (quite a bit) harder for FY 21. As a result, the FY 21 appropriations cycle will be extremely tight for all non-defense discretionary (NDD) funding. Specifically, NDD funding in FY 21 can only grow by about $5 billion above the FY 20 enacted level. Three of the President’s funding priorities for FY 21 — VA, Homeland Security, and NASA — are slated for increases that would consume more than that amount. To adopt his proposed increases for just these three agencies would require cuts in other NDD programs.

Q: Is there a possibility of changes to the caps?

A: Yes. The most expedient would be for Congress to increase the caps, overriding the deal from last year. This has certainly happened before, usually after a lot of partisan wrangling. This year, they might be able to skip the protracted negotiations. After appropriating several trillion dollars so far this year, it is possible that leadership and appropriators will not want to have long discussions over differences of a few billion dollars.

Another approach would be to enforce the caps, but exempt increases for front-line agencies that are working on combating COVID-19. The idea originated with appropriators involved with the Labor-HHS funding bill and there have been public mentions of including NIH, CDC, and other programs they oversee. FDA has not yet been mentioned publicly, but when this next surfaces we will try to ensure that FDA is on the list of agencies exempted from the caps.

Editorial note: The Analysis and Commentary section is written by Steven Grossman, Deputy Executive Director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA.

Comments are closed.