CHN: Appropriations on Hold as Congress Starts Summer Recess
Members of Congress left DC last Thursday, July 14 to start their seven-week summer recess – the longest summer vacation Congress has taken in 60 years – freeing them up to attend the Republican and Democratic national conventions and for their own campaigning. Before leaving, however, they were already looking past the summer to the fall and acknowledging the breakdown of the appropriations process that has become more evident in the last few weeks. Twelve spending bills are required to keep the government operating; to date, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have each passed its own version of all 12 bills, but only five have been passed by the full House and only three by the full Senate. None has been enacted into law. With Congress set to be out until after the Labor Day weekend, a temporary stopgap funding measure will be needed to keep the government funded after the fiscal year ends on September 30.
Talk of what that measure might look like has already begun. Conservatives in the House and some top Republicans in the Senate are calling for a 6-month stop-gap funding piece, known as a Continuing Resolution or CR, that would mostly keep FY16 funding levels in place, avoid a lame duck appropriations fight, and allow a new Congress and new president to be part of FY17 negotiations next year. Appropriators in both chambers and most Democrats are opposed to that plan and instead prefer to do a shorter-term CR to buy time to hash out an omnibus, or combined spending measure, for the new fiscal year. An omnibus would allow Congress to make changes in funding levels for programs and would last for the rest of the fiscal year, giving federal agencies more ability to plan based on evolving needs. Others, however, note that a CR is less likely to contain contentious policy changes or poison pill ‘riders’ than an omnibus. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) had initially called for a meeting of the House Republican caucus for Thursday, July 14 to discuss these options, but the meeting was cancelled, another sign that the majority party is unable to come to agreement on spending strategy.
As part of its unfinished work on appropriations, the Senate failed to advance a bill to provide funding to fight the Zika virus. For more on this, see the related article in this Human Needs Report. For more information on all things budget, see our FY17 budget resource page and our June 27 Human Needs Report.