Before leaving for the summer recess, House and Senate leaders issued statements indicating their intention to craft legislation to continue the current level of federal funding for the first six months of FY 2013. The new fiscal year starts on October 1.
In two statements totaling only 132 words, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced that they had agreed to postpone – until March – what is likely to be a major disagreement about the level of federal spending in the new fiscal year.
Majority Leader Reid stated:
“This agreement reached between the Senate, the House and the White House provides stability for the coming months, when we will have to resolve critical issues that directly affect middle class families. The funding levels in the six-month CR will correspond to the top-line funding level of $1.047 trillion. I hope that we can face the challenges ahead in the same spirit of compromise.”
Speaker Boehner’s announcement was similar in tone and wording:
“Leader Reid and I have reached an agreement by which the House and Senate will approve a six-month continuing resolution in September to keep the government operating into next year. During the August district work period, committee members and their staff will write legislation that can be passed by the House and Senate in September and sent to President Obama to be signed into law.”
The appropriations committees have written most of the FY 2013 bills. The House Appropriations Committee had passed all but one – for Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education – of the twelve funding bills. Six of these bills had passed the House. The Senate Appropriations Committee had also approved all but one – for Interior and Environment – of the funding bills. None had reached the Senate floor.
Despite this progress, there was certain to conflict in securing final passage of the twelve bills by both chambers by October 1. The House leadership wanted total funding to be below the figure agreed to in the budget legislation enacted a year ago. The Senate leadership and the White House disagreed. Argument about this number – a difference of approximately $15 billion - could have consumed much time and attention when other issues have to be settled, with the threat of a government-wide shut down as a possibility.
Commenting on this development, the White House Press Secretary released the following statement:
“The agreement reached by House and Senate leadership to fund the government through the first quarter of 2013 is a welcome development, and we are encouraged that both sides have agreed to resolve this issue without delay. The President has made clear that it is essential that the legislation to fund the government adheres to the funding levels agreed to by both parties last year, and not include ideological or extraneous policy riders. The President will work with leaders in both parties to sign a bill that accomplishes these goals.”
Congress is scheduled to return to Washington the week of September 10, and as Speaker Boehner stated, committee members and staff will use this time to develop a funding bill called a continuing resolution. All signs indicate that this can be accomplished. But until the final bill is passed by the House and the Senate, and signed by the President, uncertainty will remain.