The Senate Appropriations Committee voted yesterday to approve final fiscal year 2015 appropriations limits for each of its dozen subcommittees — and while it hints that education programs might not fare especially well, neither are they facing huge spending cuts or another government shutdown. This latest action does, however, set up a minor disagreement with the House.

The Senate committee voted to approve a $156.8 billion 302(b) limit for the Appropriations Subcommittee that covers the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, and Education. That’s about $1.1 billion more than the $155.7 billion limit that the House Appropriations Committee approved earlier this month. And both chambers matched the overall, $1.014 trillion limit for all the appropriations bills taken together, a level that the House and Senate agreed upon in last year’s Bipartisan Budget Act.

Congressional Spending Allocations

FY 2015
FY 2014
FY 2015

Sources: New America, House and Senate Appropriations Committees; $ in billions

That’s a huge improvement over last year, when the House and Senate produced dramatically different 302(b) limits for spending on the Labor, HHS, and Education agencies. For fiscal year 2014, the House approved a limit of just $122 billion, compared to the Senate figure of $166 billion. The House pulled its bill at the last minute, but the two chambers still weren’t able to agree, precipitating (in part) the federal shutdown last October.

But this year’s bill still doesn’t leave much room for education programs to grow compared to last year. Fiscal year 2014 funding for the three agencies totaled the exact same limit as the Senate approved for the coming fiscal year–$156.8 billion. So while education programs fared pretty well relative to other federal programs throughout the recession, they’re still fighting to keep at least the same-sized slice of the same-sized pie, without much flexibility to help most programs afford growing costs and serve low-income families. That’s the result of the House, Senate, and the President agreeing to cap overall appropriations funding at flat levels. (See this earlier post for more on that.)

One thing is promising, though: the declining chance that there will be another shutdown of the federal government. We know lawmakers have already launched behind-the-scenes negotiations over a temporary spending bill for fiscal year 2015 to carry them past the fall elections. And the House and Senate suballocations for federal agencies in 2015 are reassuringly very close to each other, which should shave off a lot of the tension that precipitated last year’s shutdown. So the question now is whether the government shutdown was painful enough for both parties to return to normal.

This year’s vote suggests lawmakers are, indeed, a little fatigued with the federal budget debates — at least, leading up to this year’s important round of elections. Or maybe they’ve all decided to honor the budget agreements they reached a few months before. But keep in mind that House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) has produced budget plans that call for cutting domestic spending in future years and reallocating those dollars to defense programs. Federal budgeting tensions are being managed day-by-day — and today, the outlook is relatively clear.

[Cross-posted at Ed Central]

Clare McCann

Clare McCann is a policy analyst with the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation. Find her on Twitter: @claremccann