Appropriations Bills at a Standstill

July 17, 2012

Underscoring growing partisan rancor, lawmakers find themselves facing a likely impasse over appropriations bills, unable to garner bipartisan or bicameral agreement on any of the 12 separate bills they are charged with approving. The looming Sept. 30 deadline to pass appropriations bills, combined with the November elections, could lead to another messy, partisan dust-up—and yet another months-long continuing resolution (CR) in-lieu of actually passing the various spending bills.

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to approve a $519 billion Defense spending measure. Meanwhile the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education is expected to approve a controversial spending bill that strips or drastically reduces funding for many provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [PL 111-148].

Despite the House action on these spending bills, the threat of a presidential veto hangs over them due significant cuts to the tune of $19 billion below the approved level in the Budget Control Act [PL 112-25] which was passed last year and included an increase in the debt ceiling. Furthermore, the Senate is highly unlikely to approve any such controversial spending measures.

To date, the House has passed the following spending bills: Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy-Water, Homeland Security, Legislative Branch, VA-Military Construction and Transportation-HUD. In addition to the Defense and Labor-HHS-Education, the House also could make floor time for the Financial Services and Agriculture spending bills before the elections. The Senate, on the other hand, has passed no appropriations bills and it doesn’t appear that any are on the docket for floor time.

Lawmakers face significantly limited work days remaining in the session prior to elections and party conventions to complete any work. The Senate and House are scheduled to begin their August recess on Aug. 3 and will not return to Washington, D.C. until Sept. 10. And while the Senate is scheduled to be in session the majority of September and October, the House is only scheduled to be in session for a total of 13 days after the August recess and before the elections. Although these schedules can vary, it is unlikely there will be any significant increase in work-days prior to the elections, making passage of any final spending bill tenuous at best.

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