The FY 2012 federal appropriations process is in full swing, and it’s looking a lot like last year. Fiscal year 2012 will begin on October 1, and yet no appropriations bills have been signed into law.
Today, New America’s Federal Education Budget Project (FEBP) released a detailed report that explains how the Congressional budget process affects education funding and includes a special emphasis on the unique circumstances of the fiscal year 2012 budget process.
But, here’s a quick rundown of what’s supposed to happen. (See the FEBP report for more details.) Each February, to kick off the budget process, the President releases his budget proposal. Then, over the next several months, The House and Senate hold budget hearings and votes on 12 separate appropriations bills that fund one-third of the federal government. Disagreement on funding levels is worked out through a conference committee. And then a final budget bill is presented to the President for him to sign into law, setting funding levels for the next fiscal year. All of this is done by Sept 30, the last day of the fiscal year.
This summer, when much of this budget action often takes place, however, was inundated with debt ceiling negotiations, adding yet another wrinkle to the fiscal year 2012 budget process. (Read the FEBP report for more details on this.)
Here’s where we are in the fiscal year 2012 process so far: Back in May, the House passed a budget resolution for FY 2012, setting total discretionary spending at $1.019 trillion. (This amount is lower than what was passed later as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, better known as the debt ceiling agreement. The total discretionary limit set by the Act is $1.043 trillion.) The House also established funding levels for Departments of Labor, HHS, and Education at $139.2 billion, though as per usual there is no specification for individual programs within those agencies. This is $18.2 billion less than the fiscal year 2011 level, meaning, if the House abides by this limit, cuts would need to be made.
Should the House pass an appropriations bill that adheres to the funding levels it adopted in its budget resolution, the bill can’t become law without first being passed by the Senate.
In fact, the Senate hasn’t passed a budget resolution for fiscal year 2012. The chamber, however, has held hearings on proposed fiscal year 2012 funding. Then, earlier this month, the Senate Committee on Appropriations approved $157.1 billion for the Departments of Labor, HHS, and Education, $2 million less than FY2011 levels. That figure bodes much better for Education and HHS funding than does the limit that House is following.
But until the House and the Senate come together on funding levels for fiscal year 2012, there will be no new budget for the President to sign. With the September 30 deadline coming fast, a continuing resolution is likely.
Neither the House nor the Senate have yet designated set funding amounts for any specific programs like Head Start, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Title I, IDEA or any others. This leaves a lot in limbo: Will funding levels for these programs remain at fiscal year 2011 levels? Or will they see an increase or a decrease? Will Congress fund another Race to the Top – K-12 or Early Learning Challenge? What about other new programs like Investing in Innovations and Promise Neighborhoods?
Given that all of this technically needs be decided by October 1st, the start of fiscal year 2012, we anticipate that Congress will have to pass a continuing resolution that temporarily funds federal programs until a full-year bill is signed into law. Last year, the first continuing resolution maintained the previous fiscal year’s spending levels, but the final bill for the full year made reductions to some programs, but significant increases to others.
Stay tuned for continuing coverage of the FY 2012 federal appropriations process. And to see how things played out last year, don't miss our complete coverage of federal funding for FY 2011, as well as recent posts on the debt ceiling agreement.