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APPROPRIATIONS UPDATE: Outcome of Congressional Elections Will Play a Key Role in This Year’s Federal Funding Decisions

As the fiscal year draws to a close, Congress is expected to consider a CR that will keep the government running and postpone any funding decisions until mid-December.

September 30 marks the end of the federal government’s fiscal year and the day by which the twelve annual appropriations bills must be signed by President Obama to prevent a government shutdown. To date, however, the U.S. Congress has yet to send a single Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 appropriations bill to the president, necessitating a short-term continuing resolution (CR) that will keep the federal government open. Further complicating matters for education advocates is the overall lack of activity on the Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education appropriations bill that funds the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

Earlier this summer, the Senate Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee passed a bill that would fund ED at $45.06 billion in FY 2015, excluding Pell Grants. The total represents an increase of approximately $530 million compared to FY 2014, but it is roughly $750 million less than the amount President Obama requested in his FY 2015 budget. Although the Senate Appropriations Committee never met to consider the subcommittee’s bill, the subcommittee’s proposed funding levels for individual programs were made publicly available. Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee took no public action on its version of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, leaving advocates in the dark about its funding priorities.

As the fiscal year draws to a close, Congress is expected to consider a CR that will keep the government running and postpone any funding decisions until mid-December. Looming between now and mid-December are the November 4 congressional elections and the possibility that Republicans will win enough seats to retake the U.S. Senate, giving them control of both chambers of Congress for the first time since 2007—a possibility that some political prognosticators believe is more likely to occur than not.

One outside contender is an omnibus bill that wraps all twelve appropriations bills into a single bill as was the case last year. U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) hinted in late July that an omnibus bill would be her preference, but her counterpart in the House, U.S. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) expressed doubt that it could happen.

“We’ve only got two weeks in September—we’ve got to pass a CR and it’ll be a crowded schedule in September,” Rogers told Roll Call. “I’d like to, but I don’t see a realistic way to get that done.”

Should Republicans gain control of the Senate, they could push for another short-term CR that would postpone funding decisions until January when the new Congress is sworn in and they could write more conservative spending bills. Another option could be a yearlong CR that would close the book on FY 2015 and likely freeze spending at or near FY 2014 levels. Unless Republicans reach sixty seats in the Senate, which is unlikely, Democrats could still block any spending plans that freeze or make deep cuts to domestic programs, such as those focused on education. Ultimately, what happens in early November will affect negotiations in mid-December.

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