Federal Budget Update
by Greg Lankler – Mercury – from Weekly Military Information published by Debbie Miller with Celestar
30 March 2016
The House and Senate both adjourned for the Easter Recess without making much progress on the budget front. The House continues to struggle to reach agreement on a budget resolution to establish the framework for consideration of appropriations bills. The main sticking point in the House is the total spending level for Fiscal Year 2017. A majority of House Republicans and Democrats want to adhere to the levels agreed to last December as part of the budget deal that set the total at $1.070 trillion dollars. However, Republicans in the Freedom Caucus and the Republican Study Committee have balked at this figure and indicated they will not support a budget resolution or appropriations bills that are brought to the House floor at this level. The Republican leadership continues to try to come up with ways to get out of this bind. Various proposals have been suggested that would enable House floor votes to reduce spending by as much as $30 billion below the budget deal. But the proposals continue to be met with skepticism and have failed to gain any traction.
Despite the lack of a budget resolution, the House Appropriations Committee has begun considering appropriations bills, drafted assuming the $1.070 trillion level. The Committee is pursuing a strategy that at least gets the 12 appropriations bills through the committee while the House Republican Leadership struggles to come up with a strategy that can get the bills approved on House floor without relying on a large number of Democrat votes for passage. Doing so would enrage House conservatives and could spark another revolt against House leadership similar to that Republicans went through last fall when Speaker Boehner retired. The Appropriations Committee approved the first bill, providing funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense military construction projects, last week. The Committee will resume consideration of additional bills as soon as the House reconvenes on April 12th. However, without an agreement on the total spending level, it is unlikely more than a few bills will ever get approved by the House.
In the Senate, the picture is much different. Majority Leader McConnell has made it clear that the deal agreed to last December is the deal, and expects appropriations bills to be written and considered by the Senate at that level – with or without a budget resolution. While this will enable the appropriations bills to move much smoother through that chamber, the risk of the open amendment process in the Senate leaves plenty of opportunity for political mischief to derail the whole process at any point. A fact which is only exacerbated in a presidential election year.
The discouraging reality in all this is that we are likely facing the arrival of a new fiscal year on October 1st without anything more than one or two appropriations bills enacted into law, and the need for a Continuing Resolution to keep the government open until after the elections in November. At which point we will begin the usual “threat of a government shutdown kabuki dance” between the political parties. But to stay positive, we’ve been there and done that, so everybody should pretty much have their moves memorized by now. And with a new Administration beginning next January, everybody will be motivated to clear the decks and come to an agreement – hopefully before Christmas.
A lot can still happen between now and then which could portend a much more productive legislative session. But in Washington, they say a pessimist is just an optimist with experience.