After a long summer of debt ceiling negotiations, and a stalled appropriations process, the fiscal year 2012 appropriations process is finally moving again. That’s good news given that fiscal year 2012 starts on October 1st, 2011 and not a single appropriations bill has been signed into law yet.
With the adoption of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (the debt ceiling agreement) back in August, the Senate finally had agreed on an overall limit on fiscal year 2012 appropriations. That cleared the way for the next step in the annual appropriations process.
Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Appropriations approved 302(b) subcommittee allocations for fiscal year 2012. These subcommittee allocations divide the total limit on appropriations funding (called a "302(a) allocation") among the 12 appropriations subcommittees. While the 302(b)s do not specify appropriations at the agency level or for specific programs, they do give us a good sense of how the Senate plans to allocate $1.043 trillion in discretionary funds—the limit for fiscal year 2012—and how much funding Congress will ultimately provide for education programs.
The Senate allocated the Labor, HHS, and Education subcommittee $157.1 billion in fiscal year 2012 funding authority for the agencies within its jurisdiction. That is $300 million less than the funding Congress enacted for programs under these agencies in fiscal year 2011. While that means that some programs will surely get cut, which might include some education programs, the Senate still has made funding for Labor, HHS, and Education a priority. Consider that the Senate Appropriations Committee allocated much bigger cuts to other agencies. The Senate’s State Department and Foreign Operations suballocation, for example, is $44.6 billion, $3.2 billion below 2011 levels.
While the Senate is just getting started on 2012 appropriations, the House is months ahead. Back in May the House passed a budget resolution for fiscal year 2012 that set total discretionary spending at $1.019 trillion, a $31 billion reduction in total appropriations funding compared to fiscal year 2011. Later that month, the House adopted 302(b) allocations, including $139.2 billion for Labor, HHS, and Education, $18.2 billion below 2011 levels.
But the House’s head start isn’t worth all that much. Neither the House or Senate has passed (or even drafted) a fiscal year 2012 Labor, HHS, and Education appropriations bill. Moreover, both the House and Senate have to pass the exact same funding levels before the president can sign an appropriations bill into law.
In other words, we are just weeks away from the start of fiscal year 2012, and Congress is still a long ways away from finalizing the appropriations process. Get ready for Congress to pass stopgap funding bills (continuing resolutions) that eventually lead to a giant omnibus appropriations bill covering all federal agencies for fiscal year 2012.