“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 They are much outdated and many on Capitol Hill are eager to pass new FY 2014 appropriations bills for this current year.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.”