House, Senate pass budgets that would force deep cuts

March 17, 2015

This week, the House and Senate each passed budget resolutions that would have deep consequences for non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs – including education and training programs – as well as mandatory programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

House Budget Resolution

On March 25, the House voted along party lines (219-208) to pass the chamber’s fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget resolution. The budget, crafted by committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA), proposes consolidating workforce development programs, converting SNAP into a block grant, and cutting funding for non-defense discretionary programs.

The House budget commends Congress for eliminating 15 federal job training programs through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), but at the same time, presses for further consolidation of federal education and training programs. The budget goes on to suggest that consolidation would be used to extract savings – or cuts – from workforce development programs. The budget also indicates that other improvements to the workforce system could be made by “empowering states with the flexibility to tailor funding and programs to the specific needs of their workforce.” Similar language has been used in previous House budgets, though it is unclear how this flexibility would operate in practice.

In addition, the budget calls for converting SNAP – which includes the SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) program – into a “state flexibility fund,” beginning in 2021. The budget also proposes rescinding the administration’s ability to grant waivers to allow states to test new strategies to serve Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients.

The budget also proposes freezing the maximum Pell Grant award at its current level, $5,775, through 2025.

Finally, the budget proposes deep cuts in non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending – which includes spending for occupational training and adult education programs – over the next decade. In FY 2016, NDD programs would be funded at the post-sequester level. However, in the remaining years of the budgetary window (FY 2017-2025), NDD programs would lose $759 billion.

Senate Budget Resolution

The Senate budget resolution, spearheaded by Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY), also passed this week largely along party lines, by a margin of 52-46. Like the House budget, the Senate budget would force deep cuts to SNAP and NDD programs, although the proposed cuts are not quite as significant as those proposed in the House.

The Senate budget resolution calls for $236 billion in cuts to NDD programs over the next decade. Similar to the House budget, NDD programs would be funded at the post-sequester level in FY 2016, with the additional cuts apportioned out across the remaining nine years of the budget window.

The Senate budget also puts forth $1.2 trillion in unspecified mandatory cuts over the same period, about half of which would come from the income security category of the budget, where the SNAP program is housed. The budget would also eliminate mandatory spending on the Pell grant program, which would effectively result in an $89 billion cut to the program.

Next Steps

The budget resolution is not a law, and is not signed by the President. Rather, the House and Senate budget committees develop and pass budget resolutions through their respective chambers, then come together and attempt to resolve the differences between the two budgets to produce a bicameral conference report, which the appropriations committees may work off of as they craft appropriations legislation for the upcoming fiscal year. Given that topline spending levels have been set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) through 2021, and that appropriations legislation that sets spending below those budgetary caps would likely be vetoed by the President, the budget resolution is more likely to be viewed as a statement of principles document, rather than a starting point for the FY 2016 appropriations process.

Even though the proposals within the budget resolutions will not be enacted, Congress is expected to use the budget conference report to initiate reconciliation, an expedited legislative process used to make changes in mandatory spending, revenues, or the federal debt limit. Both budgets include reconciliation instructions. While it’s widely expected that Republican leaders will use reconciliation to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it could be used to make other changes to spending and tax policy as well. However, unlike budget resolutions, a reconciliation bill requires the President’s signature, and the President would not sign a reconciliation bill that would repeal the ACA or make cuts to large entitlements like SNAP.

On March 16, NSC, along with 150 national, state, regional, and local organizations sent a letter urging the House and Senate budget committees to adopt a budget resolution that would allow for adequate funding for key education and training programs. Unfortunately, securing adequate funding for these programs would be nearly impossible under the House and Senate budget resolutions.