House action on spending bills for fiscal year 2012 is under way and it's clear that construction programs will be under severe pressure.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) released the total spending ceiling for his panel on May 11, and it calls for a cut in nondefense spending of $47.4 billion, or 8.8%, compared with the fiscal 2011 enacted levels.

Rogers also specified how the $536.8-billion nondefense totals will be divided among the 12 appropriations subcommittees, each of which oversees the budgets for a group of federal departments and agencies.

The first two subcommittee votes--
on the homeland security and military construction-veterans affairs bills--were scheduled for May 13

Rogers' allocations hit the Transportation-HUD subcommittee particularly hard, with a reduction of $7.7 billion, or 14%. There will be no word until July on how much each transportation line-item account would receive, but the size of the subcommittee's overall reduction surely will put pressure on such construction programs as high-speed rail.

Other subcommittees with jurisdiction over construction programs saw smaller cuts. For example, energy and water--which includes the Army Corps of Engineers civil works, Bureau of Reclamation, and Dept. of Energy environmental cleanup accounts--had its FY12 allotment pared by $1 billion, or 3%.

Interior and environment, which includes the Environmental Protection Agency and National Park Service construction programs, was dealt a cut of $2.1 billion, or 7%.

Rogers said, "Facing record-high deficits, this year, more than ever, we must  make the hard budget decisions to help rein in spending."

Appropriations top Democratic member, Norm Dicks (Wash.), called the subcommittee allocations "brutal."

It will be months, however, before construction learns what the final numbers will be for federal construction programs. 

Rogers says he's aiming to have at least nine of the 12 subcommittee bills on the floor by Aug. 5 and the other three on the floor in September.  His subcommittee allocations should end up being close to the numbers that the full House approves later this year.

But the Senate, still under Democratic control, probably won't cut as deeply as the House. Final spending levels will hinge on negotiations between the two chambers to work out differences.

Construction officials would like to see Congress wrap up the 2012 spending measures by Oct. 1, when fiscal 2012 begins.

But given recent history, another protracted appropriations struggle and more stopgap extensions to keep federal agencies operating past Oct. 1 are not out of the question.