At 10:20 last night the House of Representatives began its roll call vote on a bipartisan stop-gap Senate funding bill, and within fifteen minutes it had passed this measure providing federal funding at current levels through January 15, 2014. President Obama signed the bill, H.R. 2775, last night. Federal operations resumed this morning after a 16 day shutdown.
Under this legislation, the House and Senate will be required to meet in a conference to decide on an overall discretionary spending level (that includes S&T program funding) for the current fiscal year that started on October 1. While both chambers approved separate spending plans in March, a formal conference was never convened. The House and Senate levels differ by $91 billion, and negotiations to arrive at a compromise level will be difficult. This step was to have been completed by April 15 in order to set broad parameters for the twelve FY 2014 appropriations bills. The bill enacted yesterday calls for this to be accomplished by December 13.
Sequestration will be one of the topics covered in these negotiations. President Obama and congressional Democrats have advocated replacing an upcoming series of mandatory budget reductions with a package of tax increases, entitlement reforms, and program changes, arguing that the automatic January 16, 2014 cut will be too severe. While some congressional Republicans acknowledge the difficulties of the mandatory cuts, they contend that sequestration is the only mechanism that is in place to control federal spending. The FY 2014 automatic cut would be approximately 2 percent as compared to the FY 2013 level, impacting defense programs more than domestic programs according to one analysis.
Of note, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) spoke against sequestration this summer after it was determined that an appropriations bill would not pass on the House floor because the harsh program funding levels required under the 2011 Budget Control Act. Rogers said “sequestration - and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts - must be brought to an end,” adding, “The House, Senate and White House must come together as soon as possible on a comprehensive compromise that repeals sequestration, takes the nation off this lurching path from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis, reduces our deficits and debt, and provides a realistic topline discretionary spending level to fund the government in a responsible - and attainable - way.”
No one was surprised that the “comprehensive compromise” Rogers called for ten weeks ago did not materialize. What is unclear is if that compromise, the first step which was to have occurred in mid-April, will be arrived at in time to prevent another shutdown of the federal government on January 15, and the imposition of another round of mandatory reductions that will go into effect on January 16 to an eventual funding bill for this fiscal year.