Congress Still Trying to Wrap Up Work

Congress Still Trying to Wrap Up Work


Bipartisan bickering may keep Congress working past tomorrow to complete work on FY2012 appropriations bills and deal with other key issues.  One bright spot is that the final version of the defense authorization bill passed the House yesterday and is expected to pass the Senate today.

Authorization bills only recommend funding, of course, they do not actually provide it.   Only appropriations bills contain money for agencies to spend.   The Department of Defense (DOD) is one of many federal entities whose FY2012 funding is still in abeyance.   It and others are operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires tomorrow at midnight.

Washington is once more worrying about a government shutdown, though in this case at least a few federal agencies – including NASA and NOAA – would not be affected since their FY2012 funding is approved already.  Their funding is part of a minibus bill signed into law last month that combined three of the 12 regular appropriations bills (Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-HUD).

The remaining nine appropriations bills are bundled together at the moment, but unrelated policy disputes are holding up final action. Extending the payroll tax holiday for middle income families, raising taxes on the wealthy, a pipeline deal, and a pot pourri of other topics on which Republicans and Democrats are bitterly divided may make final action impossible in the next day or two.

The House Appropriations Committee introduced a package of three bills yesterday – a Consolidated  Appropriations bill (H.R. 3671) that combines the remaining nine regular appropriations bills; a disaster aid and recovery assistance bill (H.R. 3672); and a bill that contains offsets for the disaster funding (H. Con. Res. 94).

The prospect of a new, very short-term CR to fund those government agencies that are covered by the expiring CR through the weekend is being discussed.  Under this scenario, members would return next week instead of going home for the holidays tomorrow as planned.

Even those agencies whose budgets are passed are not entirely safe from the budget axe.   Congress not only gives money, but it can take it back through a “rescission.”   Across-the-board rescissions are quite common as Congress tries to reach some budget target it has set for itself or pay for new initiatives or disaster relief.    H. Con. Res. 94, for example, contains a 1.83 percent across-the-board rescission to all FY2012 discretionary spending except DOD, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.   That means NASA and NOAA would be hit by the rescission if the resolution passes.

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