House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Wednesday he expects President Joe Biden to submit his fiscal 2023 budget request shortly and believes congressional leaders and the White House could strike a topline discretionary spending deal as soon as this month.
The president’s budget request, which is statutorily required to be submitted in February but comes later than that most years, typically kicks off the appropriations process.
“The budget coming down from the president is necessary,” Hoyer, D-Md., said. “I’m hopeful that will happen either late this week or next week.”
Office of Management and Budget officials declined to comment on the timeline. Off-Hill sources familiar with the process predict the budget request is more likely to come later than that, possibly March 28 or April 4.
Budget requests are frequently released when Congress is in session so the House and Senate Budget Committees can hold hearings on it that same week. While the Senate is in session next week, the House is not scheduled to be since Republicans are going on their annual conference retreat. Both chambers are scheduled to be in session the weeks of March 28 and April 4.
The fiscal 2022 process concluded five and a half months late on Tuesday, with Biden signing a $1.5 trillion omnibus bill, and Hoyer wants to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
One of those mistakes, he said, was not having the top appropriations and congressional leaders come to agreement early in the process on the topline discretionary spending level, known in appropriations parlance as the 302(a) allocation after a section of the 1974 law that established the modern budget process.
While there was a general understanding the total would end up around $1.5 trillion, it took until early February for appropriators to formally agree on that and how the money would be split between defense and nondefense.
The compromise appropriators reached for fiscal 2022 provided $782 billion for defense-related accounts and $730 billion for nondefense. The $46 billion, or 6.7 percent, increase in nondefense spending was a significant boost over the fiscal 2021 enacted level but less than half of what Democrats initially proposed. And the $42 billion, or 5.6 percent, increase to defense was more than most Democrats wanted to provide as Republicans negotiated that figure up.
Once that basic framework was settled, it wasn’t long before appropriators divided it up among the 12 annual bills, known as the 302(b) allocations.
“It took a lot of time to get the agreement between the House and the Senate because the committees were marking to different numbers,” Hoyer said. “That’s not a very successful way to proceed.”
Topline agreement this month?
That’s why Hoyer took time during the omnibus signing ceremony Tuesday to begin conversations about the fiscal 2023 process, specifically coming to quick agreement on the 302(a) allocation.
He said he spoke with Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro’s top aide – the Connecticut Democrat was unable to attend herself because she tested positive for COVID-19. Hoyer said he also talked to Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., who’s also a senior appropriator, at the bill signing.
Hoyer said he then spoke with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Wednesday morning about “the necessity” to get a topline deal. He also recently talked to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., about an appropriations accord.
“I’m hopeful that we could get and I’ve urged that we get a 302(a) agreement by the end of this month,” Hoyer said. “We’ve got another 15 days to go. … Everybody has said they believe that we ought to get the 302(a)s. That doesn’t mean we’ll get there, but it does mean that everybody agrees that getting there by the end of this month will give the Appropriations Committee in the Senate and the House the kind of direction they need to proceed.”
Hoyer, who served on the Appropriations Committee before he joined leadership, is a stickler for trying to get Congress to complete the basic function of funding the government on time. While he has generally kept the House on schedule in recent years to pass all but a few of the more controversial bills in the summer, the Senate has not brought bills to the floor or in recent years even to markup.
But Hoyer has never been deterred by Senate inaction. And despite the late completion of the fiscal 2022 omnibus, he’s not building any delays into the fiscal 2023 schedule.
“It’s still my intention to pass as many appropriations bills through the House of Representatives by the end of June as we can,” Hoyer said.
While Hoyer tries to kickstart the fiscal 2023 process, appropriators and leadership are also still trying to wrap up unfinished business on COVID-19 aid after removing $15.6 billion in supplemental funding from the omnibus.
The White House has requested and is still pushing for $22.5 billion in COVID-19 emergency funding for “immediate needs,” including continued procurement of therapeutics, vaccines and testing supplies, some of which it wants to send to vulnerable populations overseas.
Congressional Republicans are not keen on more pandemic spending without a full accounting of the trillions already appropriated. GOP leaders did agree to the $15.6 billion initially included in the omnibus, but only because it was fully offset with unspent funds from previous laws.
House Democratic leaders had to strip that $15.6 billion after some of their members objected to one of the offsets — $7 billion that was going to be taken from state aid Democrats approved in last year’s coronavirus relief law.
While some states got their full allotment of aid last year, the majority were slated to get their aid in two tranches because they had lower unemployment rates. The second tranche has not gone out yet and that’s where the $7 billion was going to pulled from, angering lawmakers from the impacted states.
House Democratic leaders initially planned to bring a standalone bill to the floor that would appropriate the $15.6 billion in aid without that $7 billion offset. But some Democrats balked at passing that bill when it was unlikely to get through the Senate where Republicans are demanding any aid be fully offset.
“Republicans are [saying] that they won’t support it unless it’s paid for … so we’re looking to pay for it,” Hoyer said, noting lawmakers are now looking at finding new offsets before they bring the bill to the floor.
Hoyer said the House would act when that compromise comes together, noting, “I’m hopeful we’ll get it done this week.”
Hoyer didn’t rule out passing more funding in the future, but he said “certainly the $15 [billion] would be a very, very good start to what the administration says is needed and what they want to do.”
Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.