The House and Senate have passed legislation to provide funding for the remainder of the fiscal year. This legislation, known as a continuing resolution, has been sent to the White House. The President is expected to sign this bill.
The final bill is approximately 575 pages long. H.R. 933, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act for FY 2013 basically maintains funding at last year’s (FY 2012) level for the rest of this fiscal year, minus $85 billion in mandated spending cuts that were made through sequestration. In general, approximately 5 percent reductions from last year’s budgets will be made in nondefense programs, and approximately 8 percent in defense programs. The passage of H.R. 933 ends speculation that an agreement would be struck to delay or modify these reductions.
The $85 billion in required cuts for FY2013 is but the first year of similar annual reductions scheduled through FY 2021 required by the Budget Control Act. There is some talk on Capitol Hill that these and future cuts might be modified through later congressional action.
Passage of this legislation avoids down-to-the-deadline fiscal crises that have become common. Current funding expires on March 27. Although the mandated funding cuts have no proponents on Capitol Hill, there was little movement to avoid them after they occurred on March 1. With the fiscal year almost half over the prevailing sentiment seemed to be a desire to provide funding for the rest of the fiscal year and move on.
The House passed the first version of the continuing resolution on March 6. The bill went to the Senate, where after some revision it was passed on March 20 by a vote of 73 yes to 26 no votes. All but one no vote were cast by Republicans. The House considered the bill yesterday, passing it by a mixed party vote of 318-109.
During consideration of the bill in the Senate, changes were made to the original House bill that contained the Defense and Military Construction/Veterans appropriations bills and flat funding for other departments. These modifications stayed within the overall spending cap of $984 billion (after sequestration.) Comparable spending in FY 2012 was $1.043 trillion. Included in both the House and Senate bills were very limited changes or anomalies in spending levels for selected programs with urgent needs.
Senators added three more appropriations bills to allow limited changes in spending and flexibility in program funding. The three additional domestic bills were Commerce, Justice, Science; Agriculture; and Homeland Security. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee discussed a modification in the Senate bill pertaining to the National Science Foundation in March 12 remarks on the floor. She explained:
“The Senate bill provides [NSF] $220 million more than the House CR [continuing resolution], which means that we will be able to provide more help to 7,000 scientists and teachers making new discoveries for new products that will lead to new companies and new jobs.”
A committee document predicts this addition will provide funding for 550 more grants than the House bill. It is expected that NSF will see its budget decline by $360 million because of sequestration.
Regarding the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Mikulski told her colleagues that the Senate bill provides $71 million more than the original House version. But she added, “Now put that into context that they’re going to take a $1.5 billion hit with sequestration.” She later added:
“Just the other day when I was over at NIH they told me, and told America, that NIH, working with clinicians and the private life science sector, has reduced cancer rates in the United States by 15 percent. That’s a 15 percent reduction in breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer. It's all that wonderful research going on at the Bethesda campus and in academic centers of excellence all over America. But instead of pinning medals on those people and encouraging young people to come into science, we could end up giving them a pink slip. What are we doing? I not only want to lower cancer rates, but I want to improve and raise the discovery rate.”
Earlier in her remarks Mikulski implied that this additional funding was made possible from a shift in the 2012 appropriations for NASA containing “$500 million for a space shuttle [program] that doesn’t exist. We want to change that and put it where it belongs in properly defending the nation and investing in science and technology,” she said.
Mikulski’s counterpart on the Appropriations Committee is Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL). Following Senate passage of the bill, he stated:
“This is an important step in breaking from crisis mode in Washington. Chairwoman Mikulski and I set out to prevent a government shutdown, provide flexibility for those implementing budget cuts, and produce a bill that both parties in both chambers can support. It is my hope that the tone we set in meeting these objectives for the current fiscal year will carry over to our work on subsequent appropriations bills. We must continue to work together to replace a last minute, shotgun approach to reducing spending with a deliberate, targeted process.”
When the Senate bill went back to the House for final passage, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) commented:
“Even if a Continuing Resolution is not the most preferable way to fund the government, I believe this bill is the best we could do under these tricky circumstances, and I thank my colleagues – on the other side of the aisle and the other side of the Capitol – for working closely with me and the Committee over the past few weeks.
“We still face a long haul for the rest of the year. It may seem far down the line, but the beginning of the 2014 fiscal year is only six months away – not to mention the other fiscal challenges we face. Passing this Continuing Resolution today lays the framework for a path forward. It takes a looming fiscal deadline off the table to allow us to finish the rest of our work, and ensures our government keeps its doors open through it all. I ask my colleagues today to do the right thing for the American people, and support this legislation.”
Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY) also commented on the bill:
"Like any compromise, this measure is far from perfect. It fails to prevent reckless across-the-board spending cuts through sequestration, neglects funding needed to give millions of Americans access to health insurance and financial protections, and shortchanges services and investments on which American families rely. Nevertheless, a government shutdown could wreak havoc on our already fragile economic recovery and must be prevented."
Looking ahead to FY 2014, which starts on October 1, congressional committees have already held department and agency hearings. The Obama Administration is scheduled to send its budget request to Congress the week of April 8.