After weeks of decent progress in advancing the fiscal year (FY) 2013 appropriations bills—the annual spending bills that finance the operations of government agencies—the process, disappointingly, appears to be stalling. According to CQ Budget Tracker:
Although both chambers will work on appropriations bills this month, Congress appears unlikely to clear many, or perhaps any, fiscal 2013 spending bills before Election Day. It will likely be December at the earliest before the appropriations process is completed.
Worse, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV) is threatening to block any floor votes on appropriations, and blaming Republicans for seeking lower spending in the measures. The House has written bills to stay within a total base “discretionary” spending level of $1.028 trillion, consistent with the House-passed budget resolution (H.Con.Res. 112). That is $19 billion less than the Senate’s $1.047 trillion figure, which is based on the Budget Control Act.
The Senate has refused, for the third straight year, to pass a regular budget resolution as required by law, and is instead using last year’s debt ceiling agreement as a proxy budget. Reid is balking at bringing any of the bills to the floor without an agreement, in advance, on the Senate’s higher spending.
Reid’s stance drew a fitting rebuke from House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R–KY):
The 12 annual appropriations bills cannot be swept under the rug and ignored until a more convenient political time. They can, and must, be dealt with in a judicious and responsible manner—else the nation will once again face the economic danger and instability of threats of a government shut-down.…
The House and Senate are free to disagree, and frequently do, but that should not give cause for one whole legislative branch to act like impudent children, effectively “taking their ball and going home.”
Congress had a fair chance of finishing all 12 of the bills by the start of the fiscal year on October 1. As shown in The Heritage Foundation’s Appropriations Tracker, six appropriations bills have been passed on the House floor, and five have made it through the House Appropriations Committee.
Most recently, the House passed the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development bill. While the measure spends within the allocated limit under the House budget and contains a few positive policy reforms, it could still be scrubbed of wasteful programs such as the Essential Air Services, Community Development Block Grants, and Amtrak subsidies.
The House Appropriations Committee also passed the Interior–Environment bill. The full House is scheduled to take up the defense appropriations bill this week, and the Labor–Health and Human Services–Education measure is to be considered in subcommittee on Wednesday. Though the Senate is dawdling in bringing its own appropriations bills to the floor, its Appropriations Committee has passed nine of the 12 bills.
Regrettably, both the House and Senate have employed a loophole that allows an upward “adjustment” in their spending limits for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund. Senate appropriators have so far provided $6.7 billion of such disaster funds for FY 2013. More discouraging is that House appropriators added $5.5 billion to their homeland security bill even though the House budget resolution swore off the disaster spending gimmick. The Appropriations Committee was granted the required cap adjustment to allow the spending.
In any case, slowing the appropriations bills at this stage is deliberate, irresponsible, and completely avoidable. If the appropriations do wait until December, it will result from a conscious choice in Congress to once again mismanage its budgeting practices.