With the new fiscal year starting in only 23 days and with the expectation that the House will recess at the end of next week and the Senate by September 23 until after the election, the push is on to pass a short term appropriations bill to continue funding after September 30. Congress has not sent a single FY 2015 appropriations bill to the White House.
“It’s politics” Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) said in July when commenting on a would-be plan he and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) had been trying to advance. Their committee approved nine of the twelve appropriations bills but none was ever considered on the Senate floor. House appropriators approved all of their bills and all but four were passed by the House. But the process ground to a halt with the earlier optimism that this appropriations cycle would be different no longer in evidence.
In contrast to previous years, the disagreement this year did not revolve around how much total discretionary spending there should be in FY 2015. That was resolved with a budget deal setting figures for this year and FY 2015. A review of the FY 2015 appropriations bills, including committee report language, is available here.
There are three major obstacles to progress on FY 2015 funding bills. The first is the continuing dispute in the Senate about EPA’s power plant emission rules. The second is the desire of leaders of both parties in both the House and Senate to avoid votes on controversial matters. The third factor is a growing conviction among Senate Republicans that they may become the majority party next year, when they would be in a stronger position to shape the final FY 2015 appropriations bills.
House leaders are expected to bring a short term funding bill to the floor within the next few days that would continue, with few exceptions, current funding levels. There will be discussion about these exceptions and whether to adjust funding for child migrant programs, the worsening Ebola outbreak, the delivery of veterans’ health care, and a range of other issues. Previous experience points to only a few of these exceptions, or anomalies, being included in the short term bill.
A second issue concerns the duration of the funding. General thinking has been the passage of a bill providing funding until mid-December. But some strategists suggest that funding continue until January in the event Senate Republicans do become the majority, denying Senate Democrats an opportunity to have a stronger influence on the final appropriations bills. There is some speculation that if flat funding is provided until January that it might then be extended through the end of FY 2015.