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House sets $1.6 trillion cap for fiscal 2023 appropriations

‘Deeming’ resolution allows House spending bills to move forward, even though there's no deal yet between the parties

Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., arrives for the House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington on Wednesday, April 27, 2022.
Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., arrives for the House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington on Wednesday, April 27, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House adopted a $1.6 trillion discretionary spending cap for the upcoming fiscal year, clearing the way for appropriators to start moving the fiscal 2023 spending bills through that chamber as bicameral talks reconvene on a framework for bills that can pass the Senate as well.

The deeming resolution setting a single discretionary topline was adopted Wednesday as part of a rule for floor debate on gun control legislation. The vote to adopt the combined rule was 218-205, with all Republicans opposed.

The “deemer” reflects President Joe Biden’s roughly $1.6 trillion discretionary budget request but does not specify how the funds would be divided up between defense and nondefense. It will be up to the House Appropriations Committee to use the overall number, known as a “302(a)” after its section in the 1974 budget law, and divide it into a dozen “302(b)” subcommittee allocations.

The subcommittees are expected to begin marking up the fiscal 2023 bills next week in advance of floor votes before the August recess.

On the floor Wednesday, House Budget ranking member Jason Smith, R-Mo., accused Democrats of “smuggling their spending levels for the upcoming appropriations process into a rule for a totally unrelated bill so they don’t have to debate or defend their out-of-control spending habits.”

Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., shot back that it was simply a “technical” provision needed to allow appropriations bills to move ahead. He questioned why Smith would use his time to discuss a budget technicality instead of “the children who were killed in Uvalde,” among other recent acts of gun violence.

Smith also argued the new spending ceiling would exceed Biden’s budget request by $21 billion — the difference between $1.603 trillion that would be appropriated in the House bills and $1.582 trillion laid out in the Office of Management and Budget’s fiscal 2023 documents.

There are often differences between OMB estimates and how the Congressional Budget Office scores the president’s request, however. A Democratic aide said the $21 billion extra is due to “technical adjustments” after the CBO reestimated the Biden budget rather than a decision to increase spending beyond the presidential request.

Adoption of the deeming resolution provides an enforcement tool to prevent House members from breaking through the overall cap when bills are considered on the floor. Amendments that are offered must be budget-neutral, offsetting any spending increases with cuts elsewhere.

A deemer stands in for a full budget resolution, providing the same enforcement authority on the floor when Congress neglects to adopt a budget.

The deeming resolution would allow the usual “cap adjustments” that permit appropriators to add money for disaster relief, wildfire suppression and program integrity initiatives meant to remove waste and fraud in federal programs without breaching their limits. Those adjustments allow for about $25 billion in extra fiscal 2023 spending on top of the $1.6 trillion “base” budget ceiling.

House and Senate leaders have yet to reach an agreement on how to divide up the money or even what the total topline should be.

The “four corners” of the Appropriations panels — the top Democratic and Republican members of those committees in each chamber — met later Wednesday for about 45 minutes. But as the Senate panel’s ranking member, Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., predicted earlier in the day, he and other participants said after the meeting that no agreement was reached.

Republicans oppose the split between defense and nondefense funds that the Biden administration has proposed — with increases over this year’s appropriations heavily weighted toward nondefense programs. And the White House and some Democrats also want to wall off veterans health care from other domestic programs, another point of contention in the bicameral talks.

Aidan Quigley contributed to this report.

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