As congressional appropriators get moving on spending bills for fiscal year 2017, the Army Corps of Engineers civil works program is faring well but construction accounts at the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments are facing cutbacks.
The overriding issue for 2017 appropriations is whether Congress will adhere to the $1.07-trillion cap for overall discretionary spending set in last year’s House-Senate budget agreement. the conservative House Freedom Caucus has said it cannot support the $1.07-trillion mark figure.
In the meantime, Senate and House Appropriations Committees are making progress on the first of 12 individual spending bills for 2017, using $1.07 trillion as their overall baseline.
In the Senate committee’s first fiscal 2017 voting session, held on April 14, lawmakers approved an energy-and-water-programs bill that recommends $6 billion for Corps civil works. That’s slightly more than the 2016 level and a new record for a regular spending bill, energy and water subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) noted.
Alexander also observed that the measure rejected President Obama’s proposed $1.4-billion cut in civil works, from 2016 levels. The Corps is popular among Senate lawmakers. He said, “There’s not a funding line in the budget that senators asked us to increase more than the Corps of Engineers.”
Within the $6 billion, the Senate committee recommended $1.81 billion for the Corps construction account, a 3% cut from 2016. But the panel boosted Corps operation and maintenance spending 1%, to about $3.17 billion.
Lawmakers pointed out the bill calls for a record $1.3 billion in spending from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. “That’s the highest level ever,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the subcommittee’s top Democrat. The figures exceeds the target set in the 2014 Water Resources Reform and Development Act, Waterways Council Inc. noted.
It also “makes full use of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund,” Alexander said.
In the House, the energy and water appropriation subcommittee was even a bit more generous to Corps civil works, recommending $6.1 billion, a 2% hike in the FY 17 spending bill it approved on April 13. Within that total, the House panel tops the Senate panel on Corps construction, calling for $1.95 billion, b but recommends $3.16 for operation and maintenance, slightly less than the Senate number.
The House panel also spends about $1.3 billion out of the harbor trust fund.
On the other hand, DOD and VA construction would be in line for cuts under a separate bill that the Senate appropriations panel also cleared on Apr. 14. That measure pares “mil con” by $241 million, or 3%, to $7.93 billion. It also slices VA major construction project 58%, to $528 million—the level that Obama recommended. The 2016 level was unusually high.
The full House Appropriations Committee’s mil con-VA bill, which it approved on April 13, includes $7.87 billion for DOD construction, slightly less than the Senate panel’s version. The House committee bill’s allotment for VA major projects is $528 million, the same amount that the Senate committee recommended.
For another important engineering and construction program, Dept. of Energy defense environmental cleanup , the Senate committee approved a 2% increase, to $5.38 billion; the House subcommittee recommended $5.2 billion, a reduction from 2016.