Budget Caps. The appropriations process once again got bogged down over months of difficult negotiations with regard to overriding the spending caps for FY 2020 and FY 2021 that were passed as part of the BCA, the 2011 deficit reduction law that both parties have come to resent. Without a deal to raise spending, all discretionary spending would have had to be cut 10% below the current levels for FY 2020.
The House Budget Committee approved a draft bill early in the process to increase spending caps for both defense and nondefense programs for FY 2020 in roughly equal measure. (Democrats have long insisted on "parity" in the treatment of defense and nondefense spending increases, while the Republicans want to raise the spending cap only for defense.) The draft bill would have added about $88 billion to both defense and nondefense spending limits in FY 2020, and another $90 billion each to those limits in FY 2021. While never enacted, the bill set the stage for the House to approve 10 of the 12 annual appropriation bills, including the Financial Services bill, which provides funding for the Judiciary.
The Senate dismissed it as a non-starter and Senate appropriators declined to move any bills until an agreement could be reached on spending levels for FY 2020 and lifting the debt ceiling. After months of negotiations, new spending caps were agreed to by the House and Senate and on August 2, the deal, embodied in H.R. 3877, the Bipartisan Budget Act, was signed into law. The two-year budget deal suspends the debt limit through July 31, 2021, and raises the spending caps for FY 2020 and FY 2021 by $324 billion over the amount originally set under the BCA. Unlike the original proposal offered by the House, the spending increases are not divided equally between defense and non-defense spending.
While the deal delighted almost no one, it gave both parties something to cheer about. Republicans applauded the two years of spending increases for defense, including a nearly 3.1 percent increase in fiscal 2020, compared to this year’s enacted level, and Democrats cheered the end of across-the-board cuts known as sequester that threatened their domestic funding priorities. The topline discretionary spending amount for FY 2020 is $1.37 trillion - $938 billion for defense spending and $632 billion for nondefense spending.
Justices Testify. Justices Alito and Kagan testified at a hearing on March 7, 2019, before the House Appropriations Financial Services Subcommittee with regard to the FY 2020 budget request for the Supreme Court, which is a separate line item in the Judiciary's budget. They requested $87.7 million in discretionary spending for the Supreme Court, about $6.7 million over the FY 2019 appropriation, an increase that Justice Alito said is necessary to cover the continuation of existing activities. (Justice Alito's written statement on behalf of both of them is available here).
House and Senate Appropriations for the Judiciary. On June 26, the House passed its $24.95 billion Financial Services appropriations bill. It includes $7.9 billion in discretionary funding for the Judiciary. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government approved its FY 2020 spending bill on September 27. The $24.196 billion funding measure includes $7.418 billion in discretionary funding for the Federal Judiciary, which is $234 million above the FY 2019 enacted level.
Continuing Resolutions Prevent a Government Shutdown. With spending limits set just before the August recess, and not one appropriations bill passed by both chambers, Congress reverted to its usual pattern of passing a short-term continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown on September 30, 2019, which marks the end of the government's 2019 fiscal year. H.R. 4378, the stopgap funding measure, was signed into law at the end of September. It extended current funding levels through November 21.
Lawmakers made little progress in the Fall and were not even able to agree on how to divvy up the $1.37 trillion in discretionary spending among the 12 two appropriation bills prior to the expiration of the stopgap funding measure. Consequently, lawmaker passed another stopgap measure (PL 116-69) to keep the government running through December 20 while they continued to negotiate.
A major stumbling block was finally lifted in late November, when top negotiators set separate spending levels (also known as 302bs) for each of the appropriation subcommittees. Though the House had passed 10 of the 12 fiscal 2020 bills and the Senate four, lawmakers hadn't been able to reach a final deal on any of them as they awaited the deal on the top-line numbers.
Final FY 2020 Spending Bills Enacted. Congress and the White House agreed to a FY 2020 spending deal the week of December 16, divided up into two packages (HR 1158, HR 1865).
The House passed the measures on December 16, and the Senate cleared the bills two days later. President Donald Trump signed them into law December 20, hours before the second stopgap funding measure expired.
The Judiciary received $7.487 billion in discretionary funding, just slightly higher than the amount approved by the Senate Appropriations Financil Services subcommittee in September. This represents a $234 million increase over the FY 2019 enacted level. This will provide sufficient funding for the federal courts to conduct its business.