Monday, October 27, 2008

Budget and Appropriations

With just over a week left until the election, most members of Congress remain on the campaign trail, and Capitol Hill is a pretty quiet place. But not everyone has left. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is working hard, along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and many committee chairs and ranking members, to build a case for quick action on a large economic recovery package. They got a boost for that plan this week when Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve Board chairman, indicated he thought a targeted stimulus package would be necessary to kick the United States out of what is now called a recession.

Throughout the week, hearings were held on the Hill on topics of deep concern to the public: the impact of the Wall Street meltdown on 401(k) holdings, infrastructure needs across the nation and how the government might create jobs and assist unemployed workers. More hearings are scheduled for the week leading up to the election. President Bush, who had rejected an earlier economic recovery plan that passed in the House before the current recess, has also softened his opposition. Up to this point, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have sought ideas from members of Congress and the public about what to include in the package but have also indicated they won't try to move a bill that would be rejected by the Senate or vetoed by the president. A final decision will be made after Nov. 4.

Whether or not a large economic recovery bill moves quickly through the Congress during the November lame-duck session or is held off for the new Congress in January is a subject for speculation. What is certain is that Congress will have to act in the new year on a final budget for FY 2009. The current continuing resolution, set to expire on March 6, is preventing the wheels of government from grinding to a halt. Appropriations staffers acknowledge they are hard at work trying to resolve funding levels for programs that are treated differently in the House and Senate proposed plans for FY 2009 spending. They too will have to wait until after Nov. 4 to find out just how generous the new administration and the newly elected Congress will be and how much money they can allocate to agencies such as the Department of Education. Nov. 4 can't come soon enough.

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