Splitting the Difference: Democratic Leaders Attempt to Break Funding Logjam

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Publication date: 
27 November 2007

Congress returns to Washington a week from today with only one of twelve "must pass" appropriations bills signed into law. Democratic congressional leaders are proposing to break the $23 billion logjam preventing passage of the remaining bills by splitting the difference between what they want to spend in FY 2008, and what President Bush has set as his limit. While this new figure is less than one-half of 1 percent of the total amount that the federal government will spend in FY 2008, the signs that this approach will be accepted by the White House are not encouraging.

After the President vetoed the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, the House attempted to override his veto. The tally was two votes short of what was needed. Although 51 Republicans voted to override the veto, the tally was an indication that future override attempts would not be successful.

After the failed override, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stated "We're gonna now bundle these [11] bills up, send him [the President] a bill splitting the different between the $22 billion that he says we're over and his budget number." Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) said the Senate leadership planned to get closer to the President's spending limit of $933 billion.

A spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget gave little support to this split-the-difference proposal, saying that Congress should send the eleven bills to the President on an individual basis. That approach is unlikely. At this time last year, Republicans controlled both chambers, and had not sent any of the domestic appropriations bills to President Bush. Congress frequently bundles appropriations bills to get them enacted; President Bush has signed 27 such bills.

The would be significant consequences to science and technology programs under the contemplated compromise. It is estimated that the appropriations subcommittees would have between 2 and 3 percent less to spend. It is too early to know how such a reduction would be applied to individual programs. If the House's recommendation for the Office of Science was reduced by 3 percent, as an example, it would be a loss of $135.4 million. The House's recommendation for NASA's science programs would fall by $170.9 million, while the National Science Foundation would decline by $195.3 million. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-WI) remarked, "For medical research into diseases like cancer, Parkinson's and diabetes at the National Institutes of Health, meeting the President halfway would put us $700 million below the bill we are considering today. That means about 700 fewer grants for research to treat and cure so many deadly diseases."

The Democratic leadership hopes to attract enough Republicans to support this compromise approach who could, in turn, convince the White House to negotiate, or who would override a veto. Said David Hobson (R-OH), Ranking Member on the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee: "There comes a time when you both have made your points and it is time to make a deal."

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