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Appropriations Watch: FY 2021

Sep 22, 2020 | Other Spending

Updated 9/22/2020: The House passed a continuing resolution through Dec. 11, 2020, on Tuesday, Sept. 22. The Senate would still need to clear the measure, and the President would need to sign it.

Congress began preliminary appropriations work for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 in March and started marking up individual appropriations bills in July. Discretionary spending levels are subject to caps, but they were modified for FY 2020 and FY 2021 by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 — a two-year agreement which increased spending caps and averted spending reductions under sequestration.

While Congress is supposed to complete a budget resolution to lay out fiscal principles and set an appropriations level, lawmakers have not adopted one. Response to the COVID-19 pandemic consumed much of the floor time in the spring, delaying appropriations action. Lawmakers are using a procedure known as "deeming," allowing the Appropriations Committees to begin their work assuming adherence to spending caps that were enacted under last year's Bipartisan Budget Act, which set discretionary spending caps at $1.288 trillion for FY 2020 and $1.298 trillion for FY 2021.

The House Appropriations Committee marked up appropriations bills the weeks of July 6 and July 13, with floor debate following during the weeks of July 20 and July 27. The Senate Appropriations Committee was expected to begin markups the week of June 22, although action has now been delayed, reportedly due to disagreements over the process for amendments that may attempt to address additional COVID-19 aid and racial injustice and policing — targets of recent nationwide protests.

As we did last year, we'll be tracking the bills as they move from committee to the House and Senate floor and onto the President's desk.

The table below shows the status of each appropriations bill. To learn more about the appropriations process, read our report Appropriations 101

Appropriations will be one of several deadlines Congress will face over the coming months. See a list of the upcoming fiscal deadlines here.

Appropriations Watch: FY 2021
Item House   Senate              
CR through 12/11/2020 Passed on 9/22/2020 by a 359 to 57 vote   N/A
Budget Resolution N/A   N/A
302(b) Approved by full committee on 7/9 by a 29 to 21 vote; revised allocations considered on 7/15   N/A
Agriculture Approved by subcommittee on 7/6 by voice vote; approved by full committee on 7/9 by voice vote; passed by a vote of 224 to 189 as part of minibus #1 on 7/24   N/A
Commerce, Justice, Science Approved by subcommittee on 7/8; approved by full committee on 7/14 by a 30 to 22 vote; passed by a vote of 217 to 197 as part of minibus #2 on 7/31   N/A
Defense  Approved by subcommittee on 7/8 by voice vote; approved by full committee on 7/14 by a 30 to 22 vote; passed by a vote of 217 to 197 as part of minibus #2 on 7/31   N/A
Energy and Water Development Approved by subcommittee on 7/7 by voice vote; approved by full committee on 7/13 by a 30 to 21 vote; passed by a vote of 217 to 197 as part of minibus #2 on 7/31   N/A
Financial Services and General Government Approved by subcommittee on 7/8 by voice vote; approved by full committee on 7/15 by a 30 to 22 vote; passed by a vote of 217 to 197 as part of minibus #2 on 7/31   N/A
Homeland Security Approved by subcommittee on 7/7 by voice vote; approved by full committee on 7/15 by a 30 to 22 vote; removed from consideration as part of minibus #2 on 7/29   N/A
Interior, Environment Approved by subcommittee on 7/7 by voice vote; approved by full committee on 7/10 by a 30 to 19 vote; passed by a vote of 224 to 189 as part of minibus #1 on 7/24   N/A
Labor, HHS, Education Approved by subcommittee on 7/7 by a 9 to 6 vote; approved by full committee on 7/13 by a 30 to 22 vote; passed by a vote of 217 to 197 as part of minibus #2 on 7/31   N/A
Legislative Branch Approved by subcommittee on 7/7 by voice vote; approved by full committee on 7/10 by a 30 to 18 vote   N/A
Military Construction, VA  Approved by subcommittee on 7/6 by voice vote; approved by full committee on 7/9 by a 30 to 20 vote; passed by a vote of 224 to 189 as part of minibus #1 on 7/24   N/A
State, Foreign Operations Approved by subcommittee on 7/6 by voice vote; approved by full committee on 7/9 by a 29 to 21 vote; passed by a vote of 224 to 189 as part of minibus #1 on 7/24   N/A
Transportation, HUD Approved by subcommittee on 7/8 by voice vote; approved by full committee on 7/14 by a vote of 30 to 22; passed by a vote of 217 to 197 as part of minibus #2 on 7/31   N/A

Sources: House Appropriations Committee, Senate Appropriations Committee, Congress.gov. All dates are in 2020 unless noted otherwise.

As we explain in Appropriations 101, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approve 302(b) spending levels for each subcommittee after the topline 302(a) levels are determined by the Budget Committees. Below is an excerpt (click here to read the full report).

How does Congress determine the total level of appropriations?

After the President submits the Administration’s budget proposal to Congress, the House and Senate Budget Committees are each directed to report a budget resolution that, if passed by their respective houses, would then be reconciled in a budget conference (see Q&A: Everything You Need to Know About a Budget Conference).

The resulting budget resolution, which is a concurrent resolution and therefore not signed by the President, includes what is known as a 302(a) allocation that sets a total amount of money for the Appropriations Committees to spend. For example, the conferenced budget between the House and Senate set the 302(a) limit for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 at $1.017 trillion.

In the absence of a budget resolution, each chamber may enact a deeming resolution that sets the 302(a) allocation for that chamber. Both the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (BBA18) and the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 (BBA19) gave the Chairs of the Budget Committees authority to set the 302(a) allocation for the Appropriations Committees at the statutory discretionary spending cap levels set by those budget deals for four consecutive fiscal years, including for the upcoming fiscal year (FY 2021). Specifically, the BBA19 allowed for the Chairs of the Budget Committees to set the 302(a) allocations at $1.298 trillion for FY 2021. Both the House and Senate Budget Committee Chairs filed 302(a) allocations at that level in early May.

Discretionary spending has been subject to statutory spending caps since 2013, though this upcoming year will be the last those caps will be in effect. The Budget Control Act of 2011 set discretionary caps through 2021, which have been modified by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, and the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019.

How does Congress allocate appropriations?

Once they receive 302(a) allocations, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees set 302(b) allocations to divide total appropriations among the 12 subcommittees dealing with different parts of the budget. The subcommittees then decide how to distribute funds within their 302(b) allocations. The 302(b) allocations are voted on by the respective Appropriations Committees, but they are not subject to review or vote by the full House or Senate. The table below lists the FY 2020 regular (non-war, non-disaster) appropriations along with the House and Senate FY 2021 302(b) allocations.  The table will be regularly updated as both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees release their 302(b) allocations.

The table below compares actual funding for FY 2020 with the FY 2021 302(b) allocations from the House and Senate. 

Budget Authority Allocations to Appropriations Subcommittees (billions)
Subcommittee FY 20 Enacted Level House FY 21 Senate FY 21
Agriculture $23.5 $24.0 N/A
Commerce, Justice, Science $70.7 $71.5 N/A
Defense $622.7* $626.2 N/A
Energy and Water Development $48.3 $49.6 N/A
Financial Services and General Government $23.8 $24.6 N/A
Homeland Security $50.5* $50.7 N/A
Interior, Environment $36.0 $36.8 N/A
Labor, HHS, Education $183.0 $182.9 N/A
Legislative Branch $5.0 $5.3 N/A
Military Construction, VA $103.5* $102.6 N/A
State, Foreign Operations $46.7* $47.9 N/A
Transportation, HUD $74.3 $75.9 N/A
Total $1.288 trillion $1.298 trillion^ $1.298 trillion^

Sources: CBO estimate of H.R. 1158, CBO estimate of H.R. 1865, House Appropriations Committee. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet approved 302(b) allocations.

^In addition to base discretionary appropriations provided in the table, BBA 2019 also allows $77 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) spending. 

*In addition to base discretionary appropriations provided in the table, final FY 2020 spending measures also included a total of $79.5 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations spending, $70.7 billion of which is designated for the Department of Defense, $8 billion of which is designated for the State Department, $645 million of which is designated for military construction, and $190 million of which is designated for the Department of Homeland Security. Including OCO funds, disaster relief, emergency requirements, $2.5 billion in special funding for the 2020 census, and program integrity, FY 2020 spending measures provide $1.400 trillion in budget authority and $1.412 trillion in outlays.

As Congress considers appropriations bills, it is important that lawmakers avoid budget gimmicks and stick to the discretionary funding limits in current law until and unless they can agree on a fiscally responsible plan to amend the caps. If you have any questions about terminology or the appropriations process, please see our report Appropriations 101, and stay tuned to our blog for continuing coverage.

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