No Apparent Progress on Budget Stalemate

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Publication date: 
21 November 2013

“If a timely  agreement is not reached, the likely alternatives could have extremely damaging  repercussions” warns a November 18 letter about the need to reach a deal on overall federal budget  numbers for this and the next fiscal year.   Time is running out, with the chairman and subcommittee chairmen of the  House Appropriations Committee warning of another government shutdown.

The  last government shutdown was ended when an agreement was struck to continue  flat funding for government departments and agencies through a legislative  mechanism called a continuing resolution.   That act provides funding through only January 15.  While no one wants to see another shutdown, few  are enthusiastic about merely continuing the same discretionary program funding  levels through next September 30.  Those  appropriations were set for FY 2012 and then were largely carried over   for FY 2013.  They are much outdated and  many on Capitol Hill are eager to pass new FY 2014 appropriations bills for this  current year.

Appropriators  have been unable to take further action without knowing what the “topline” is –  the total amount of money that they have to distribute among the twelve  appropriations bills.  A section of the  same legislation that provided funding through January 15 called for senior  members of the House and Senate budget committees to set that topline figure  for FY 2014 and for FY 2015.  They are to  determine these numbers by December 13, allowing just one month for the  appropriators to write their final bills. 

The  House and Senate have disagreed about this number all year, and there is no  sign that they are closer to a resolution.   Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Representative Harold Rogers (R-KY),  the chairs of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, urged the budget  committees to act several weeks ago.  Rogers and his twelve subcommittee chairs reiterated  that call in a November 18 letter.  That  letter to the four senior majority and minority members of the two budget  committees follows:

“Dear  Chairman Ryan, Chairwoman Murray, Ranking Member Sessions, and Ranking Member  Van Hollen:

“We  call on the Budget conference to reach an agreement on the FY 2014 and 2015  spending caps as soon as possible to allow the appropriations process to move  forward to completion by the January 15 expiration of the current short-term  Continuing Resolution.  We urge you to redouble  your efforts toward that end and report common, topline levels for both the  House and Senate before the Thanksgiving recess, or by December 2 at the  latest.

“If  a timely agreement is not reached, the likely alternatives could have extremely  damaging repercussions.  First, the  failure to reach a budget deal to allow Appropriations to assemble funding for  FY 2014 will reopen the specter of another government shutdown.  Second, it will reopen the probability of governance  by continuing resolution, based on prior year outdated spending needs and  priorities, dismissing in one fell swoop all of the work done by the Congress  to enact appropriations bills for FY 2014 that reflect the will of Congress and  the people we represent.  Third, the  current sequester and the upcoming ‘Second Sequester” in January would result  in more indiscriminate across the board reductions that could have negative  consequences on critically important federal programs, especially our national  defense.

“In  addition, failure to agree on a common spending cap for FY 2015 will guarantee  another year of confusion.

“The  American people deserve a detailed budget blueprint that makes rational and  intelligent choices on funding by their elected representatives, not by a meat  ax.  We urge you to come together and  decide on a common discretionary spending topline for both FY 2014 and FY 2015  as quickly as possible to empower our Committee, and the Congress as a whole,  to make the responsible spending decisions that we have been elected to make.”

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