Appropriators Work to Finish FY18 Omnibus Bill

Appropriators Work to Finish FY18 Omnibus Bill

March 02, 2018  | Jeff Davis

March 2, 2018

Staffers for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees were working furiously this week to iron out as many differences as possible between the twelve House-passed appropriations bills for fiscal 2018 and the twelve bills reported from the Senate panel, in hopes of getting an omnibus package filed by March 14.

This week was the negotiators’ self-imposed deadline for the subcommittee chairmen and ranking minority members to solve all the outstanding issues that they could and “kick the rest upstairs” to the full committee chairmen and ranking members.

The appropriators have more money to spend than they ever thought possible at the beginning of this budget cycle. For non-defense appropriations, the House bills totaled $510.7 billion and the Senate bills totaled $518.5 billion. The budget deal sets the total at $579 billion, and at least $10 billion of that extra $63-68 billion is supposed to go towards infrastructure programs.

How far would an extra $10 billion for infrastructure go?

According to the bipartisan deal memo from Congressional leaders accompanying the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, some of the increased spending allowed by the deal in 2018 is to go to certain non-defense priorities, “at levels exceeding those provided in fiscal year 2017.” One of those is $10 billion in 2018 for infrastructure, which was defined in the deal memo thusly:

infrastructure, including programs related to rural water and wastewater, clean and safe drinking water, rural broadband, energy, innovative capital projects, and surface transportation.

Identifying which accounts in the discretionary budget fall into this category is something of an eye-of-the-beholder exercise. (What are “innovative capital projects,” anyway?) But we have identified commonly accepted infrastructure accounts that totaled $72.6 billion in 2017. (The real total is probably a half-billion less than that because you have to back out Amtrak operating subsidies out of the Amtrak accounts.)

FY 2017 Enacted Discretionary Spending Levels for Infrastructure Accounts
Department of Transportation     Army Corps of Engineers
OST TIGER 500 USACE Investigations 121
FAA Facilities & Equipment 2,855 USACE Construction 1,876
FAA Airport Improvement Program 3,350 USACE Mississippi River System 362
FHWA Federal-Aid Highways 43,266 USACE Operation and Maintenance 3,149
FRA Amtrak – Northeast Corridor 328 USACE Flood Control/Emergencies 32
FRA Amtrak – National Network 1,167
FRA Federal-State SOGR Grants 25 Environmental Protection Agency
FRA Coordinated Rail Grants 68 EPA Clean Water Act SRFs 1,394
FRA Rail Restoration Grants 5 EPA Safe Drinking Water Act SRFs 863
FTA Transit Formula Grants 9,734 EPA WIFIA 10
FTA Capital Investment Grants 2,413
FTA Grants to WMATA 150 Department of Energy
DOE Electricity Delivery/Reliability 230
Department of Agriculture
RUS Rural Utilities Service (total) 673 TOTAL, FY 2017 INFRASTRUCTURE 72,571

$10 billion on top of $72 billion would be an increase of almost 14 percent. However, the three biggest infrastructure accounts in the discretionary budget – the federal highway and mass transit formula programs and the Airport Improvement Program – don’t count towards the Budget Control Act caps that were increased in the budget deal. So if you pull out those accounts and only count discretionary budget authority that is subject to the spending caps, the 2017 total drops from $72.6 billion to $16.2 billion, and going from $16.2 billion to $26.2 billion would be a mighty leap indeed.

The result may be somewhere in the middle. State DOTs, as well as Congressional authorizing committees, have been pressuring the appropriators to spend as much of that $10 billion as possible through the existing highway and mass transit formula programs, since that is by far the quickest way to get infrastructure aid out to states.

And the final omnibus bill, like the House’s version, will probably stash a lot of money in rail and mass transit accounts in hopes that the Gateway Program of rail projects in New York and New Jersey will be able to pick up the money (see this article in today’s issue for details.)

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