Clock Ticking on Government Fiscal Year
Around the State
The end of the federal government’s fiscal year comes next Friday, and once again Congress is scrambling to fund all our agencies without suffering a government shutdown. The speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, learned Wednesday that this is not always as easy as it might seem.
You see, Congress is scheduled to be on another weeklong recess next week, so the idea was to pass a stopgap continuing resolution which would continue federal government spending until Nov. 18. The resolution failed in the House on Wednesday by a vote of 230-195. (http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2011/roll719.xml).
The speaker appeared blindsided by the vote when the defeat became obvious.
The history of this bill goes back to the debt deal from August. This was when the leadership in the House and Senate negotiated the debt-ceiling increase that included creation of the “supercommittee” panel of 12 members. These 12 members are tasked to find savings in our federal government spending of at least $1.2 trillion by year’s end.
When the bill was being negotiated, the fact that the Senate hadn’t passed a budget resolution for the second year in a row was causing a bit of a problem. The problem is that without a passed budget resolution, the Senate appropriators -- members of Congress that have the responsibility of funding our government agencies -- don’t have a spending level to which they must adhere when crafting the 12 individual appropriations bills. Remember, these 12 appropriations bills make up the full funding of our federal government.
The only budget that has passed Congress this year is one from the House. This was the Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., budget that was demonized by the president and Democrats in Congress for the “Mediscare” provisions. The Democrats involved in the debt-ceiling negotiations didn’t want to concede the appropriations funding levels contained in the House budget resolution, but didn’t have a Senate budget funding level to fall back on. Therefore, a provision was included in the debt bill that said the following:
Section 105. Amendments to the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974: This section provides for amendments to the Congressional Budget Act of 1974. Specifically, Section 314 of that Act is amended to allow the chairman of the House and Senate budget committees to make budgetary adjustments to reflect the adjustments in spending limits.
This provision allowed the Senate budget chairman to set the appropriations levels for the upcoming fiscal year without a vote in the Senate, which typically would have taken place during the annual budget debate. The level that was included in the continuing resolution was $24 billion higher than the figure that was passed in the House budget resolution. When House GOPers found this out during the August recess, their reaction was none too happy.
This led to a letter sent by Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., to the House GOP leadership and signed by 50 House Republicans that said they oppose this increase (http://flake.house.gov/UploadedFiles/Flake_Lummis_Graves_Letter_on_FY12_Spending_Cap.pdf). The letter said, in part: “The House simply cannot push the level of discretionary spending for the coming year upward as its first action after the extended debt-ceiling debate.” These 50 GOP House members were among the members of the House who defeated the continuing resolution in the House Wednesday evening.
Another issue that caused the defeat, and was likely to cause defeat in the Senate, was the bicameral dispute over the funding of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. With the recent natural disasters that have occurred nationwide, FEMA is basically broke. It needs an infusion of money and the Senate voted last week to fund it to the tune of $6.9 billion. The House continuing resolution funded FEMA in the amount of $3.6 billion with approximately $1 billion paid for by taking money out of the Department of Energy’s “green technology” loan program for hybrid-car research. This writer is guessing that the House GOPers were pretty sure the American public was a bit weary of DOE loan programs after the Solyndra debacle of the last couple of weeks, and therefore wouldn’t be too upset with this choice for an offset.
Now you have a House of Representatives scheduled to go on a weeklong recess beginning this Friday. The Senate, too, is scheduled to take the same recess. However, our government runs out of money next Friday, Sept. 30, unless Congress passes a continuing resolution between now and then.
Hmm ... go on a recess and cause a government shutdown, or stay in town and resolve the Senate/House impasse and pass a continuing resolution to fund our government? Stay tuned to see which scenario ends up playing out.
Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, elected United States Senate secretary for the majority and minority. Currently she is a senior legislative adviser for Covington & Burling, LLC and is the founder of GradeGov.com (link: http://www.gradegov.com).