CHN: Congress Expected to Duck Its Funding Responsibilities Lamely – Final Decisions Shifted to the New Congress
When the old Congress limps back to Washington on December 4, they must act to approve continued federal spending by December 8, when the current temporary spending resolution expires. Instead of finalizing spending levels for all the domestic programs that require annual appropriations, the old Congressional leadership abdicated responsibility and announced they will enact yet another stopgap measure, pushing decisions off to the next Congress. Current speculation is that the new short-term spending bill (called a Continuing Resolution, or CR) will extend to March 1, although a shorter period is possible.
If Congress continues spending at the low levels currently in effect, significant shortfalls are now being predicted that are likely to affect veterans’ care, housing vouchers, and many other services. For some time, Social Security administrators have said that their funding is so low that it will be necessary to furlough workers and shut down offices for a period in the spring. Advocates for low-income people with disabilities and the elderly are fearful that such a shutdown would greatly worsen already long waits for action on applications for assistance.
Low-income rental housing would continue more than $1 billion below the levels likely to emerge from House-Senate negotiations. This shortfall would greatly worsen recent losses of housing vouchers – a reduction of 130,000 units since 2004, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (see http://www.cbpp.org/11-1-06hous.htm).
Job training, health, education and social services programs funded under the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill are now stuck at FY 2006 levels. Many programs providing job training, maternal and child health services, mental health and substance abuse treatment, nutrition for the elderly, and education for low-income children were cut in FY 2006 below the previous year’s funding, so maintaining these low levels, without even an inflation adjustment, will squeeze services further. The large numbers of new veterans of the Iraq war will also have to be served with inadequate funding from FY 2006.
The new temporary spending bill will be necessary because some right wing members, including Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), recognized that simply extending the tight temporary spending levels was likely to cut more than negotiated final appropriations. According to Congress Daily, the current level of spending will leave appropriations $7 billion below the $873 billion that Congress approved for FY 2007. Some respected analysts believe the cuts below the cap will be many billions greater. The stopgap bill in place through December 8 continues funding at the lowest of three levels: House- or Senate-passed appropriations for FY 2007, or FY 2006 approved spending.
The split among Republicans is making the lame duck session lamer, and angering the current Appropriations Committee chairs, who would prefer to enact appropriations bills in regular order. The Washington-based publication Roll Call reported that Senate Appropriations Chair Thad Cochran (R-MS) would consider altering the terms of any subsequent temporary spending bill to avoid some of the cuts caused by taking the lowest of several levels. As Democrats assume their slim majority in January, bipartisan cooperation will make it easier to reverse the damage from cuts inflicted through the Continuing Resolutions.