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House and Senate Pass FY2016 Budget Resolutions; Funding Priorities and Limits Will Guide the Appropriations Process

Legislative Update
April 1, 2015

In late March, the House of Representatives and the Senate each passed their respective Budget Resolutions for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, the first major step in the annual Congressional spending process. While Budget Resolutions do not go to the President for signature and do not have the force of law, they do establish each chamber’s overall budget priorities and spending limits for the current fiscal year-as well as subsequent years. They will be used by each chamber’s Appropriations Committees to instruct their Subcommittees as to spending allocations for crafting their respective FY2016 appropriations bills.

The House passed its Resolution (H. Con Res 27) on March 25 by a vote of 228-199. The Senate passed its Resolution (S. Con. Res. 11) on March 27 by a vote of 52-46.

The House Budget Resolution includes $5.3 trillion in non-defense budget cuts through 2025, which are in addition to the cuts dictated by the 2011 Budget Control Act’s (BCA) budget caps and sequestration. For FY2016, the Resolution cuts nondefense discretionary (NDD) spending by an additional $759 billion through 2025, while increasing defense spending by $387 billion over the same period. In addition to the increase in the defense spending, the House Resolution also adds $36 billion for FY2016 to the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund, a special funding mechanism for the Department of Defense (DOD) designated to cover the costs of military operations in the Middle East and other war zones that is not subject to sequestration and BCA spending limits. The House has been criticized for using OCO funds to meet general military needs as way to circumvent the BCA cap. Even the House Budget Committee last year described use of the OCO for such purposes as a “backdoor loophole that undermines the integrity of the budget process.”

The Senate’s Resolution proposes $4.7 trillion in non-defense budget cuts through 2025. The Senate bill would cut NDD programs by an additional $236 billion below the sequestration caps through 2025. The Senate plan also adds $38 billion to the OCO fund.

The bottom line for National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding, which is included in NDD programs along with health and education programs, is that significant funding increases are unlikely due to continued deficit reduction activities.