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National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

www.NACo.org

 

 Congress makes way for ‘minibus’ funding bill

By Marilina Sanz
ASSOCIATE LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR

Update: Just as County News went to press, Congress approved the first minibus-spending bill for FY12. The total appropriations for the three bills came in at $128.1 billion.  Among the highlights: Congress extended the Continuing Resolution that keeps the federal government running until Dec. 16. Funding had been slated to end Nov. 18.  For an analysis by NACo’s Legislative Affairs Department, click here for the Nov. 21 Legislative Bulletin.

 

No more “omnibus” appropriations bills in this politics-on-steroids season. The best Congress can do now is FY12 “minibus” appropriations bills, the first of which cleared the Senate Nov. 1 and was passed by Congress just as County News went to press.H.R. 2112 consolidates three 2012 appropriations bills: Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and Related Agencies; Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.

House and Senate conferees did not reach an agreement on the $128 billion spending measure prior to a scheduled House recess, but they continue to meet and were expected to take a vote on passage the week of Nov. 14. Final passage is likely, but House GOP leadership may need Democratic votes as some Republican members are likely to demand deeper discretionary spending cuts.

Meanwhile, conferees might change continuing resolution language in H.R. 2112 that would keep the federal government running through the end of the year. The current continuing resolution (P.L. 112-36) would have expired Nov. 18, the day that Congress planned to go on Thanksgiving recess.

The Senate was also considering a second minibus Nov. 10 that contained appropriations for Energy-Water (H.R. 2354), Financial Services (S. 1573) and State-Foreign Operations (S. 1601). The House version of the Financial Services bill contains language prohibiting the Internal Revenue Service from implementing the Affordable Care Act, which the president has threatened to veto.

NACo has written a letter to the conferees detailing recommendations on the first minibus that is available. The letter can be found at www.naco.org/legislation/Documents/budget%20ltr%201.pdf.

Below is a comparison of the House and Senate versions of H.R. 2112:

 Agriculture Appropriations: Senate Proposes Modest Cuts Compared to House

The Senate version of H.R. 2112 would provide 16 percent more in discretionary spending for agriculture programs than the House bill that passed in June. The bill would provide $19.7 billion in discretionary spending authority for the Agriculture Department and related agencies, a roughly $138 million, or 0.7 percent, cut from current spending. The House-passed version of the legislation would provide only $17.2 billion in discretionary spending.

Funding for Extension Service and food safety fared very well under the Senate bill. The Smith-Lever extension formula funds would weigh in at $296 million, which is an increase of $2 million above FY11 and $39 million above the House level. The bill provides $2.5 billion for the Food and Drug Administration, as compared to $2.4 billion in FY11. FDA received increased funding in order to begin implementation of the recently passed Food Safety Modernization Act. However, this modest increase is insufficient for even partial implementation of the new law.

Several controversial amendments were voted on prior to Senate passage. NACo successfully rallied its members and a coalition of rural interests to defeat Amendment No. 800, sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that would have reduced federal rural development spending by $1 billion or about 40 percent. The amendment was defeated by a very strong vote of 85–13.

A dozen, mostly non-controversial, amendments were added to the Senate bill during floor debate. However, a successful amendment by Coburn drew attention because it would end farm subsidies to farmers with adjusted gross incomes of more than $1 million. In addition, the administration was unsuccessful in preventing Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), from inserting a provision that prevents USDA from implementing a rule that would limit servings of white potatoes, green peas, lima beans and corn in the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs.

NACo advocacy efforts will focus on urging conferees to maintain the higher Senate funding levels for USDA Rural Development, which provides direct funding to rural counties for broadband, community facilities, water and wastewater infrastructure, housing and business development projects. The Senate provides $2.2 billion overall for rural development, which is a 7 percent cut from the FY11 level of $2.4 billion. However, the Senate level is $182 million above the House level of $2.1 billion.

A summary of funding levels for the major county-supported Rural Development programs is found below.

  • Rural Water and Waste Disposal Programs: The bill provides $509.3 million in budget authority to support both grants and subsidized loans. The House provided $500 million and the FY11 level was $527.9 million.
  • Rural Community Facilities Programs: The bill provides $26.3 million in budget authority to support both grants and subsidized loans. In contrast, the House provides only $18 million. Both levels are significantly below the FY11 level of $41.4 million.

The Senate did recommend a direct loan level of $1.3 billion, which is an increase of $1 billion and would greatly benefit rural counties with facility projects. This is likely to be accepted in conference because it requires no budget authority now that the subsidy rate for direct community facility loans is negative.

Rural Broadband: The bill provides $46.9 million for Distance Learning, Telemedicine and Broadband Program grants and loans, while the House provides $15 million. The FY11 level was $68.1 million.

Rural Business Programs: The bill provides $79.6 million for rural business grants and loan subsidies. The House provided $64.5 million. Both levels are below the FY11 level of $85.3 million. The Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) would be funded at $4.5 million in the Senate and eliminated in the House. Both the Senate and House bills would eliminate discretionary funding for the Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP).

Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill Cuts Funding Important to Local Criminal Justice and Juvenile Justice Systems

The Senate minibus proposes a total of $53.2 billion in discretionary appropriations for the Department of Commerce, Department of Justice (DOJ), and other related agencies, an increase of $3 billion compared to the House version of the legislation. The legislation proposes significant reductions in DOJ’s State and Local Law Enforcement account, and juvenile justice and delinquency prevention programs. However, the cuts are much less severe than the House version reported out of the Appropriations Committee in July.

The Senate bill proposes $1 billion for DOJ’s State and Local Law Enforcement account, which is $54 million below the current year. Programs like the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP),Juvenile Justice Title V Incentive Grants for Local Delinquency Prevention Programs, the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) program and Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) hiring grants for local police are all funded unlike the House measure, which seeks to eliminate these programs. Missing from the Senate bill however is funding for Second Chance Act Reentry Grants and the Prison Rape Prevention and Prosecution program. 

Funding for the following accounts is used to support a wide variety of programs and technical assistance important to local courts, corrections, law enforcement, juvenile justice and other agencies.

Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance-JAG grants is funded at $395 million ($357 million proposed in the House), DOJ’s Drug Court Discretionary Grant Program is funded at $35 million ($40 million proposed in the House), Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA) program is funded at $9 million ($10 million proposed in the House), SCAAP is funded at $273 million (none proposed in the House), COPS hiring grants are funded at $200 million (none proposed in the House), Byrne Competitive Grants are funded at $20 million ($15 million proposed in the House), Juvenile Justice Title V Incentive Grants for Local Delinquency Prevention Programs are funded at $33 million (none proposed in the House), and JABG is funded at $30 million (none proposed in the House).

•  HUD Appropriations: Senate Cuts Key Community Development Programs

The Senate cuts funding for the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) formula program from $3.3 billion to $2.8 billion. This is a $500 million decrease. The Senate bill also reduces the HOME program funding from $1.6 billion to $1 billion, a $600 million cut. The bill also includes reforms to ensure HOME funds are used in a timely fashion and for worthy projects.

The Senate bill includes $120 million for HUD’s Choice Neighborhood Initiative, an increase above the $65 million current level. This program expands on the HOPE VI program to improve public housing. The bill includes $90 million for the Sustainable Communities Initiative, which is currently funded at $100 million. The House committee bill eliminated funding for both programs.

The Senate bill includes level funding of $1.9 billion for homeless assistance grants. It provides $18.9 billion for housing choice vouchers, $500 million above FY11. Of this amount, $17.1 billion is for renewal of current housing vouchers, $1.4 billion for program administration, and $75 million for vouchers for homeless veterans up from current $50 million.

The bill also includes $60 million for HUD’s housing counseling program, which was eliminated in FY11, and $65 million level funding for the National Foreclosure Mitigation program.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee adopted its FY12 appropriations bill in September. The House bill provided an increase in CDBG funding to $3.5 billion and a smaller cut to the HOME program to $1.2 billion. It eliminated Sustainable Communities Initiative and Choice Neighborhood funding, and provided no funding for HUD’s housing counseling programs.

NACo advocacy efforts will focus on supporting the higher levels of funding for CDBG and HOME programs in the House bill. Also of concern is a rider amendment related to housing that prohibits the use of any funds appropriated to support any federal, state, or local projects that seek to use the power of eminent domain, unless for public use.

•  Transportation

During consideration of the Senate appropriations bill, two transportation-related amendments that NACo took an active role in opposing were defeated. Sen. Coburn’s amendment to eliminate all funding for the Small Community Air Service Development Program lost 57–41, and Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) amendment cutting Transportation Enhancement funding lost 60–38. The Senate-passed transportation funding levels generally provide a higher level of funding than their House counterpart.

The Senate bill provides $41.1 billion for highway funding, the same as current-year funding, and $1.9 billion in emergency relief highway funding. Transit funding is $10.6 billion, a $585 million increase over FY11. The Airport Improvement Program is funded at the current level of $3.5 billion while Essential Air Service is reduced by $6.7 million to $193 million.

Amtrak operating assistance is set at $544 million, an $18 million cut and the Amtrak capital program is funded at $937 million, a $15 million increase. High-speed rail is funded at $100 million and the TIGER grant program is provided with $550 million.

In contrast, the House bill makes deep cuts to transportation spending. The federal highway program is cut from $41 billion to $27.7 billion. Transit spending decreases from $10.3 billion to $7 billion, the Airport Improvement Program is reduced from $3.5 billion to $3.3 billion and Essential Air Service is cut from $200 billion to $150 billion. There is no funding for high-speed rail; Amtrak operating subsidies are cut by 60 percent and funding for TIGER grants are eliminated.