August 2015: Another Goverment Funding Showdown?

Washington Watch | August 2015
By Bruce Moyer

Since January, Republican Congressional leaders have assigned priority to the return of procedural normality in the government funding legislative process, while also pursuing the reduction of government spending itself. A polarized, dysfunctional Congress earlier had brought about a government shutdown during a period characterized by bulk extensions of funding through huge, catchall appropriations measures moderated by spending caps.

At the beginning of the 114th Congress, House Speaker John Boehner and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers pledged to return to regular order in the consideration of the government’s spending. That parliamentary phrase, “regular order,” refers to the traditional Congressional practice of consideration, within each of the jurisdictional appropriations subcommittees, of spending priorities and the crafting of 12 funding bills covering the field of federal spending. By mid-June, Rogers and Boehner had succeeded in clearing six bills through the House and on to the Senate for consideration, a feat that had not occurred in more than a decade. But Republican progress became more difficult as more contentious House spending bills followed and, in the Senate, Democrats announced plans to obstruct all of the Republicans’ spending bills.

As this column went to press, these developments were beginning to spell trouble for regular order in the House, with substantive differences beginning to mount over defense and nondefense spending allocations, as well as larger differences over mandatory (Social Security and Medicare) and discretionary spending. The impasse could potentially lead to a high-stakes round of budget negotiations between party leaders later this summer. Those negotiations could be similar to the Ryan–Murray talks in 2013, conducted by budget leaders Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), which paved the way for the “fiscal-cliff” budget agreement that forestalled sequestration’s draconian cuts. Now, unless a budget agreement is reached later this summer, across-the-board cuts will claw into federal spending, including judiciary spending, imposing deep cuts beginning in October. FY 2016 Funding for the Federal Judiciary
Notwithstanding these gloomy prospects at mid-summer’s point, the federal judiciary’s FY 2016 funding request appeared in relatively good shape in the House.

The House Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Appropriations Committee had approved a bill providing the judiciary with $6.9 billion in discretionary appropriations, a 3.2 percent increase above FY 2015. That funding mark represented a positive development, reflecting House support for the judiciary’s funding needs, especially in light of the lower spending allocation the FSGG Committee had received for its entire bill, down more than 7 percent from last year. Many agencies in the FSGG bill, especially the IRS and the General Services Administration (GSA), had received deep cuts below last year’s enacted level.

The House FSGG bill also addressed federal judiciary spending in other respects. It authorized a January 2016 pay adjustment for all civil servants but blocked an increase for senior executive branch political appointees. It did not block a similar 2016 adjustment for federal judges, a sign of increasing comity between the legislative and judicial branches, although a provision in the FY 2016 legislative branch appropriations bill would block an adjustment for members of Congress. President Barack Obama earlier had proposed a 1.3 percent pay adjustment in 2016 for civil service employees.

The House judiciary funding bill also included $20 million for the Judiciary Capital Security Program in GSA’s appropriation and $675 million for courthouse repairs and alterations, but it did not provide funding for the Nashville Courthouse project or any other GSA new construction and acquisition projects. It continued authority to implement a delegated tenant alterations program for projects below $100,000 instead of contracting through GSA, and it continued authority for the pilot project that permits the U.S. Marshals Service to assume perimeter security responsibilities from the Federal Protection Service at designated courthouses.

The complexion of the House judiciary funding bill may change, of course, depending upon the outcome of the larger budget and sequestration issues later this summer. FBA will remain a strong advocate for adequate funding for the federal courts, as it continues to keep its members advised of ongoing developments.

Bruce Moyer is government relations counsel for the FBA. © 2015 Bruce Moyer. All rights reserved.

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