It’s April, so that means Congress is smack in the middle of negotiations for the Fiscal 2018 budget.. hrm? Fiscal 2017? But that budget was supposed to have been passed and in place by October 2016! What’s going on and how is the federal government still operating without a budget? What does that mean for the Fiscal 2018 budget, which should be the focus of appropriators and Congressional representatives right now? This post will give a brief history of the Fiscal 2017 budget process so far, what we expect will happen in the next couple of weeks, and some hints at what that tells us (or doesn’t tell us!) about the Fiscal 2018 budget process.
The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 provides a formal framework for the creation of the federal budget, which operates on a fiscal year from October 1 through September 30. The official budget process is kicked off by the President of the United States, who submits a detailed budget request for the upcoming fiscal year by early February. The President’s proposal outlines their intended fiscal policy and provides insight into their priorities for federal programing, but ultimately the document is non-binding and does not represent formal legislation. Congress, as is oft the saying, controls the purse-strings.
Each chamber of Congress has a Budget Committee that is responsible for creating their own budget resolution and bringing it to the Chamber floor for consideration by April 15. Budget resolutions are rarely on time, however, and have not been brought up for consideration before the start of the fiscal year they are funding more often than they have been in the last decade. Fiscal 2017 was no exception to this pattern, which required Congress to pass a series of continuing resolutions to provide stopgap funding for agencies and discretionary programs ostensibly while they continued to work on passing the twelve appropriations bills necessary to fund federal operations. The current continuing resolution, which was passed in December 2016, provides funding at the levels approved for the Fiscal 2016 federal budget for all federal agencies and discretionary programs through April 28, 2017 (next Friday). If Congress does not pass either a budget resolution or another continuing resolution before April 28, 2017, federal agencies and discretionary programs will be shut down until a budget or continuing resolution is passed.
NASPA and other higher education associations have urged Congressional leaders to finalize the FY17 federal budget quickly to avoid additional disruption in agency operations. For example, considering that both new and returning college students will soon receive their financial aid award letters, continued uncertainty around federal aid programs such as Pell Grants, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG), and Federal Work-Study may directly impact thousands of students and their families. Congressional Budget Committees in both chambers passed versions of the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education (Labor-HHS) appropriations bills at the end of the 114th Congress that would, at a minimum, maintain historical levels of funding for key federal aid programs. The most practical solution, therefore, would be for the provisions already negotiated, agreed to, and passed out of committee to be incorporated into an omnibus budget bill and passed by the full chambers. While the Senate Budget Committee’s passed Labor-HHS bill also includes an authorization and appropriation to restore year-round Pell Grants, it remains to be seen whether that provision would remain through to a final budget bill, however, given that it was not included in the House Labor-HHS bill.
Congress is currently out of session for the April recess and will return early next week, when they are expected to revisit the appropriations process to avert a government shutdown. Given the very short amount of time upon their return to pass a budget it bill, it is possible (some may even say likely) that Congress will pass another short-term (possibly as short as a week) continuing resolution to give them additional time to finalize negotiations around an omnibus budget bill, combining provisions from all twelve appropriations bills necessary to fund federal agencies and programs into a single resolution.
Given Republican control of Congress, passing an omnibus budget bill should be straightforward. Budget resolutions require only a majority vote and Republicans control the majority in both chambers. Therefore, it is an unusual sign of in-party disunity that some factions within the Republican Party, including the Trump Administration, have started to discuss riders for either a continuing resolution or an omnibus budget bill that don’t have consensus within the Party and therefore risk the bill’s chances of passage. Possible budget bill riders have been floated on topics ranging from Planned Parenthood to funding for President Trump’s border wall to sanctuary cities, each of which risks dividing the Republican majority and resulting in a shutdown. The best chances for an omnibus budget bill to pass would be not to include any riders on the bill, thereby increasing the chances that enough Democrats will vote in favor of the bill to override any potential rebellion within the Republican Party.
Want to know more? Join us this afternoon (or check out the recording available next week in the NASPA OLC) for more on what to keep an eye out for once we wrap up Fiscal 2017 and head into appropriations conversations for Fiscal 2018. We’ll discuss President Trump’s skinny budget request, the response so far from Congress, and our best guesses are what to keep an eye on, such as shifts between defense and non-defense spending, possible implications of tax reform, and financial aid. While it appears that Congressional Republicans are supportive of the Pell Grant, and may even include provisions for restoring year-round Pell, the fate of SEOG and Federal Work-Study are less certain. NASPA is a member of the Student Aid Alliance, which is engaged in an ongoing campaign to stop the #RaidonAid; visit their site for more information on how you can join to #SaveStudentAid!