House Appropriators Blast Obama Budget "Gimmick"

House Appropriators Blast Obama Budget "Gimmick"

Two House appropriators blasted the Obama Administration today for its budget “gimmick” of requesting funds for the Department of Commerce  (DOC) from both the discretionary part of the federal budget and from “mandatory” spending.   The Administration is using the same approach to request funding for NASA.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), chairman of the full House Appropriations Committee and its Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee respectively, made their comments today (February 23) at a CJS hearing on DOC’s FY2017 budget request.   NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce, but NOAA’s satellite programs were barely mentioned.

Culberson said in his opening statement that he and other committee members were concerned that the President’s request for DOC includes “more than $2 billion in new mandatory spending. Frankly they’re just gimmicks including such things as a $10 a barrel tax on oil, which is not likely to happen. The President’s request is not realistic and makes the work of this committee more difficult.”

Rogers pointed out that Congress and the Administration agreed on budget caps for FY2016 and FY2017 last year and he is “disappointed” that the FY2017 budget request does not abide by them and is full of “gimmicks” making the budget “effectively DOA” or dead on arrival.  DOC is requesting $9.7 billion in discretionary spending, a 5 percent increase over FY2016, Rogers said, plus $2 billion in mandatory funding, which is “unrealistic to say the very least.”  At a time when Congress is reining in discretionary spending and the public is “alarmed” at the increases required to pay for mandatory programs, DOC is requesting those funds “as if you didn’t know that would make me mad,” he exclaimed.   Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker clarified that the $2 billion in mandatory spending would be spent over 5 years.

The hearing addressed a broad range of the Department of Commerce’s responsibilities, such as administering the Internet’s Domain Name System, conducting the decennial census, and overseeing patents, trade, manufacturing, and ocean resources including fisheries.  The only mention of NOAA’s satellite programs was a comment by Culberson in his opening statement that he wants to ensure they meet their cost and schedule guidelines.   The CJS subcommittee typically has a separate hearing on NOAA’s budget request where the satellite programs are discussed in more detail.

The significance of this hearing is the rejection of the President’s attempt to use mandatory spending to fund part of DOC’s activities, an approach he is also using with NASA and several other agencies.  

The federal budget is divided into mandatory and
discretionary spending. Mandatory spending, as the term implies, must be spent because of laws
already in force that set out requirements for the funds to be paid, such as Social Security or
Medicare payments to people eligible for benefits. Mandatory spending also includes interest
that must be paid on the national debt, for example.
Discretionary spending, conversely, is the money that Congress chooses to spend (or not) each year through the appropriations process.   NASA and DOC have always been funded from discretionary funds. 

NASA displays its budget request as $19.025 billion, but that is composed of $18.262
billion in appropriated funds from the discretionary part of the
federal budget and $763 million from the mandatory funds.  Without the $763 million in mandatory funds, the President’s request is a $1 billion cut from its FY2016 funding level.  (See’s fact sheet on NASA’s FY2017 budget request for more information.)

It does not appear that any of the $2 billion over five years from mandatory funds in DOC’s budget is for NOAA’s satellite programs, however.  They are funded through the Procurement, Acquisition and Construction (PAC) account of NOAA’s budget.  The Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB’s) Table 29-1 shows $100 million in FY2017 in PAC funding as being part of this mandatory proposal, but the chapter on the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Services (NESDIS) in NOAA’s budget “blue book” makes no mention of mandatory spending, although it is mentioned for other NOAA activities.

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