Whither Appropriations (or is it Wither?)

What promises to be another arduous appropriations cycle will formally kick off tomorrow, when the House Appropriations Committee convenes to adopt top-line spending allocations for each of its subcommittees.

Called 302(b) allocations (named for the section in budget law that sets annual caps on discretionary spending), this year’s spending caps are not a surprise—but no less shocking to the system.

The House spending plan for fiscal year 2014 totals $967 billion for the 12 spending bills that keep the government operating. That’s about $91 billion below the Senate’s spending target, but roughly in line with the so-called Ryan budget plan voted by the House earlier this year.

Not surprisingly, Committee chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) has set-aside about $625 billion for security -related bills (Defense, Military Construction-VA and Homeland Security,). That represents a cut of less than 1 percent below current funding for those programs. The 9 remaining spending bills would bear the brunt of tight spending limits, absorbing cuts of about $72 billion, or 17 percent.

At one end of the funding spectrum, defense programs are slated for a 6 percent increase to $512.5 billion, while Labor-HHS-Education is held to $121.8 billion—22 percent below current spending, and about where spending stood for these programs over a decade ago. The Financial Services spending bill would also take a heavy hit. That measure would be cut by $4.5 billion, or 21 percent.

Rogers is clearly hoping that he can move several bills through the House during in the summer, perhaps anticipating a “grand bargain” in autumn that would allow some “headroom” for the non-security spending bills.

This is not a new tactic, treating domestic spending bills as the “bank” to fuel passage of security bills. The big difference this year is that Congress must adhere strict spending limits set out by the 2011 debt ceiling agreement. Unless, Congress and the president strike a deal that includes new tax revenues and/or entitlement reform, there will be no money to reallocate.

All of this foreshadows some serious difficulties down the road because the Senate is moving ahead with plans to mark up its bills at the pre-sequester budget cap of $1.058 trillion — fully $91 billion higher that the House “top line” of $967 billion. With a disparity that large, it’s hard to envision how the House and Senate can bridge the gap absent a far-reaching budget deal.

To view the full list of spending allocations, click here.

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