Outlook for FY2011 Appropriations Remains Murky

Outlook for FY2011 Appropriations Remains Murky

The U.S. government is operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires on December 3. Congress must do something to keep the government operating after that date, but what it will do remains unclear: pass another short-term CR, pass a CR for the rest of FY2011, or pass an omnibus appropriations bill that funds all government agencies. The total price of the omnibus bill is about $1.1 trillion.

On Thursday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that voters made clear that they do not want Congress “passing massive trillion dollar bills that have been thrown together behind closed doors” and he will not support such a measure. Senate Democrats need 60 votes to bring the bill to the floor. There are 57 Democrats, two Independents, and 41 Republicans currently in the Senate.

Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, nonetheless is hopeful that he will be able to get some Republican votes now that his committee has agreed with Republicans to cap the omnibus bill at $1.108 trillion instead of the $1.114 trillion Democrats wanted, according to the National Journal (subscription required).

Senator McConnell also recently came out against earmarks, which he previously supported. The publication quoted Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who chairs the Senate Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, reacting to the McConnell statements: “[he] ‘was for an omnibus before he was against an omnibus,’ she quipped. ‘He supported earmarks before he was against earmarks.'”

Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), outgoing chairman of the House CJS subcommittee, told a Space Transportation Association (STA) audience Thursday morning that NASA would face difficult challenges if it must operate under a CR for an extended period of time. Agencies are not supposed to start new programs under a CR, meaning that the new direction adopted in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act would be delayed, Mollohan pointed out. He added that the additional funds for NASA’s earth science program also would be at risk.

Politico said the Democrats “have only themselves to blame … after failing to pass a budget this year or any of the dozen annual appropriations” bills. Apparently anticipating that an omnibus bill cannot be passed, the White House wants a year-long CR according to Politico, because a short-term CR would mean that the budget would have to be taken up again early next year when Republicans have control of the House giving them “a powerful vehicle to advance not just their budget agenda but also health care riders early in the next Congress.”

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