To Budget or Not to Budget? FY 2014 Still a Question Mark.

Capitol dome against a cloudy blue sky with an American flag in front

It’s appropriations season on Capitol Hill, and that means House and Senate leaders (and, especially, their staffs) are working long hours to craft spending bills for the new fiscal year that starts October 1. However, it’s not yet clear if those bills will ever become law.

As members of Congress prepare to break for their annual August recess, here’s an update on the budget process to date and its potential impact on victims of sexual violence.

The House and Senate appropriations committees rely on subject-specific subcommittees to make spending recommendations for federal agencies and programs within each subcommittee’s purview. For example, the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee oversees Justice Department programs. The 24 subcommittees (12 in the House, 12 in the Senate) each create separate bills, which form the basis of the final House and Senate budgets. Once the House and Senate bills are reconciled, a final spending bill is passed and goes to the president for signature.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. In actuality, it’s been several years since both houses of Congress approved a budget, and not a single regular appropriation bill was enacted during any of the last three election years. Instead, Congress has repeatedly passed stop-gap measures — known as continuing resolutions, or CRs — that keep funding at the previous year’s level.

From the looks of it, this year may be no different. House and Senate appropriators have failed to agree on the overall amount available to spend for FY 2014. The gap between the two chambers (the Senate wants to spend $91 billion more than the House) threatens to derail any hope for agreement on an overall spending plan. Also complicating matters is sequestration — across-the-board cuts that went into effect earlier this year, with billions more in cuts scheduled to kick in in October.

So what does this mean for federal programs for victims of sexual violence? That depends on whether or not leaders can come to agreement. The House and Senate subcommittees have supported funding things like DNA programs to help eliminate the backlog of untested DNA evidence, and the Sexual Assault Services Program, which provides critical funding to local programs that serve victims, at levels equal to the last fiscal year. Both the House and Senate have also indicated support for the Department of Justice’s Vision 21 Initiative, which encourages the use of solid research, evaluation and technology to more efficiently and effectively serve victims of crime.

The stage is set for an interesting few months, as policy makers work to get past the spending level impasse. If an agreement is not reached, the likely outcome is the passage of yet another CR, which would keep government funding at current levels. That funding will once again be subject to sequester cuts later this year, and any new spending initiatives, such as Vision 21, would be tabled indefinitely.

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