House Republicans have begun to spell out how deeply they want to cut spending pfor the last seven months of the current fiscal year and the signals are worrisome for construction.
The House GOP's initial numbers don't get down to the line-item level, but they are not good for agencies with large infrastructure programs.
At issue are the dimensions a short-term appropriations bill--a continuing resolution, or "CR"--that will fund federal agencies through Sept. 30, the last day of fiscal 2011. Congress has to take some sort of action on spending by March 4, when a current stopgap appropriations measure expires.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) on Feb. 3 released CR allocations for the 12 appropriations subcommittees, each of which is responsible for the budgets for a group of agencies.
Rogers was following up on a framework released earlier on Feb. 3 by new House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), whom GOP leaders have entrusted with significant power over spending plans.
According to Rogers' chart, the total reduction for "non-security" programs--basically the civilian agencies--would be $42.6 billion, or 9%, compared with fiscal 2010 levels.
Some sectors, however, would take hits much larger than 9%
For example, Rogers' plan would slash the DOT/HUD subcommittee's allocation by $11.6 billion, or 17%. He hasn't specified yet how large a reduction he has in mind for individual DOT accounts, but such DOT construction programs as highways, transit, railroads and airports are unlikely to escape the knife.
Another major infrastructure subcommittee is energy and water development, which includes the Army Corps of Engineers' civil works program, the Energy Dept.'s defense environmental cleanup account and the Interior Dept.'s Bureau of Reclamation. That subcommittee's allotment would be trimmed $3.5 billion, or 10%.
The Republicans' plan spares appropriations' defense subcommittee--in fact that panel would get an increase, of $9.6 billion, or 2%, from the 2010 level.
But the two other subcommittees in the security area--homeland security and military construction-veterans affairs--would be pared. The homeland security allocation would be nicked by just $17 million, but milcon-VA would be sliced $1.9 billion, or 3%.
Given the Republicans' strong majority in the House, that chamber almost surely will approve Rogers' numbers. There may be pressure from some GOP lawmakers to cut even more drastically.
The Senate, still under Democratic control, is another matter and it's likely that construction interests will pin their lobbying hopes there.
Senate Democrats are clearly aware of the pressure to shrink the overall deficit and could well recommend a freeze or modest cuts in the Senate version of the coming CR.
But the Senate's reduction isn't likely to be anywhere close to the deep cut House Republicans are advocating.
That sets up the prospect of an intense fight when the House and Senate try to reconcile their sure-to-be-differing CRs. Democrats are raising the specter of a government shutdown if they can't strike a deal with Republicans on the spending bill. Another short stopgap is a real possibility if there's no compromise agreement by March 4.