Monday, December 03, 2007

Budget and Appropriations

While the House has been in recess, the Senate has technically been in session in a much-publicized procedural move to prevent recess appointments from the White House. Both chambers get back to work on Tuesday, Dec. 4, with a long list of urgent business to complete before the next holiday break and no obvious plan for how everything will get done.

Of primary importance is the FY 2008 budget. Only one of 12 funding bills has been signed into law to date. The continuing resolution that keeps federal funds flowing right now will expire on Dec. 14. Following the president's veto of the appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education and Congress' failure to override it, Senate and House Democratic leaders came up with a compromise plan. They proposed to the administration that the two sides split the difference regarding their disagreement about how much spending is enough for the coming year. That proposal means reducing the $22-billion gap between the president's February budget plan and the Budget Resolution adopted by the Congress to $11 billion.

For the LHHS bill, that reduced spending means a $3.5 billion cut from the vetoed conference report. House Republican leaders have been negative about the compromise. Senate Republicans, however, appear tired of the fighting, and there have been reports of meetings with the White House urging them to soften their stand against any increases in spending for domestic priorities. In spite of the frosty reception the proposal received from the administration, Appropriations Committee staff are moving forward, revising the spending levels in the budget bills for all affected federal agencies. The internal deadline they face is Dec. 5, in time to prepare for a mark-up on Dec. 11 where an omnibus bill will be presented.

If the latest strategy fails, Congress is left with two options. Pass another continuing resolution, likely to last until March, and keep on trying to resolve differences between political parties and the administration in the hopes of salvaging some modest spending increases for critical programs. Alternatively, Congress could adopt a continuing resolution that would cover federal spending for the entire year. That solution means the loss of any earmarked funding for the second year in a row, a sacrifice that many members of Congress will undoubtedly oppose. It would also mean a more significant reduction, as high as 5 percent, for the Department of Education, something education advocates would similarly find disappointing after a year that began with such promise.


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