How the FY 2007 appropriations cycle will end is anyone's guess. With nine of the eleven appropriations bills not yet passed, no one knows how or when final funding will be approved for the fiscal year that started on October 1. Congress has agreed to maintain current funding through December 8, with some predicting that final action may not occur until a day or two before Christmas, or, as many now think, next year.
The election earlier this month did little to change the current appropriations situation on Capitol Hill. Although FY 2007 funding bills were enacted for the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, the House has still not passed one of the most contentious bills – that funding the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services. The situation is far more troublesome in the Senate, where most of the bills have not yet reached the floor.
There were fleeting predictions that Congress would conclude its business in relatively short order when it returned after its recess. Whatever opportunity there might have been was sidetracked when control of the House and Senate changed for next year. On one hand, the Republican leadership would like to complete the remaining appropriations bills since it would be able to control the content of the legislation. But there is also sentiment to pass the problems that have prevented passage of these bills to the new Democratic leadership that will take control in January.
There are three funding mechanisms that are being discussed. The first, which House appropriators prefer, is for each of the appropriations bills to be passed separately. That does not seem feasible, as each bill could take several days to pass on the Senate floor, and the additional time for a final version of the bill to be settled by a House/Senate conference. Since there was little cooperation on the Senate floor this week, this option seems increasingly unlikely. There is also a funding shortfall of around $5 billion for domestic discretionary programs that will have to be resolved in the Senate. The second mechanism is to pass three or four bills that would be the legislative vehicles for the remaining bills. Clustering funding in this way makes floor passage easier. The third mechanism is passing all of the remaining bills in one large or omnibus bill. Appropriators are opposed to this. Crafting a single bill covering many different programs would be a very difficult process, involving the allocation of approximately one-half trillion dollars.
Also to be factored into the disposition of these funding bills, and whether final passage might go into next year, is other major legislation that Congress should consider, as well as disputes over earmarking and overall spending levels. There is also a human factor: the atmosphere on Capitol Hill is highly contentious, the leadership of the appropriations committees is changing (in some cases Members will not be returning because of election defeats), and for some, the holiday season seems close at hand. The thinking is that appropriators will be given until December 15 to complete their negotiations, with those bills not completed left to the new Congress that convenes in January. As of late this afternoon, the January option seems increasingly likely.