March 12, 2020

Budget and Appropriations

Budget

In practice, Congress has moved to biennial budgeting in recent years. That means that for 2019—the first year of the two years of this 115th Congress—the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and President should establish the total spending [the 302(a) number] for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 and for FY2021. Under current law [31 U.S.C. §1105(a)], the President is required to submit the budget proposal to Congress on or after the first Monday in January, but no later than the first Monday in February. The Administration’s FY2020 budget proposal was officially delivered to Congress on Monday, March 11, 2019, thus commencing the House and Senate Budget Committees’ work on a budget. This FY 2020 budget proposes the elimination of the Legal Services Corporation. Every year, the Budget Committees are directed to produce a budget by April 15th. Talks between the House, Senate, and Administration to establish an overall 302(a) budget for FY2020 and FY2021 are ongoing.

Appropriations

The appropriations bills spend the money to fund our government. After April 15th, the Appropriations Committees are authorized to commence the appropriations process—with or without a budget. The first step is for the Appropriations Chair to assign each of the twelve appropriations subcommittees a 302(b) suballocation—the amount a subcommittee is to spend in its appropriations bill. The House of Representatives initiates spending bills, passing the first of the twelve bills in subcommittee on April 30th, 2019, and the last of the twelve on June 5th, 2019. The House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee approved by voice vote the CJS appropriations bill for its Fiscal Year 2020 on May 17th, 2019. The full House Appropriations Committee approved the bill by party-line roll call vote on May 22nd, 2019. This House CJS bill provides $73.895 billion in discretionary budget authority—an increase of $9.78 billion (15.3%) above the fiscal year 2019 level. The House FY2020 CJS bill would fund the Legal Services Corporation at $550 million—a 33% increase.

*Note that because the House moved forward with appropriations bills before the total budget 302(a) spending level was established, adjustments (generally down) are likely in the House 302(b) spending levels for the individual appropriations bills. In recent years, bundling all or most of the 12 appropriations bills into an omnibus appropriations bill is routine.

Continuing Resolutions

Appropriations bills are supposed to be completed before the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1st, but the deadlines are regularly breached, necessitating continuing resolutions (CRs) that fund the government through a new deadline. Congress often needs 3 to 5 CRs per year before the final omnibus appropriations bill can be enacted.

Supplemental Appropriations

Supplemental appropriations are used to address needs that arise after the twelve appropriations bills have been finalized. The supplemental appropriations bill typically funds relief from natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, et cetera. Supplemental appropriations have yet to be proposed for Fiscal Year 2020. On June 3rd, 2019, the United States House of Representatives passed by a vote of 354 to 58 the Fiscal Year 2019 Supplemental Appropriations Bill, including $15,000,000 for the Legal Services Corporation. The President signed the $19.1 billion bill on June 6, 2019.

ABA Policy

The ABA supports a strong, federally funded, community controlled program to provide legal aid for the poor. The ABA favors substantial private bar involvement in the delivery of legal services and actively encourages pro bono participation by individual attorneys, law firms, and corporate general counsels.