CHN: Congress Passes CR Through November 22

Considerable Amount of Business Left Unfinished

Bowing to the pressures of the campaign season, Congress passed a five-week continuing resolution (CR) on October 16, allowing House and Senate members to leave Washington to hit the campaign trail. Among the stack of unfinished business left behind are 11 of the 13 appropriations bills, an extension of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits expiring on December 28, prescription drug benefits for Medicare recipients, and an extension to the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, which is set to expire on December 31. While the House and Senate technically remain in session, no business is scheduled to be acted upon until their return on November 12.

Since the end of the fiscal year on September 30, Congress has passed a string of one week CRs keeping the government open by extending federal funding at fiscal year 2002 levels. Included in the first CR was a three-month extension of the TANF program, which officially expired on September 30. Prior to leaving on October 16, the Senate managed to clear the conference reports for the Defense and Military Construction appropriations bills. President Bush signed both on October 23.

Although the official word is that the House and the Senate will return for a brief session between November 12-14, it is widely expected that Congress will need additional time to come to agreement on the appropriations bills in front of it, let alone additional legislation it considers. Due to schedule conflicts, the most likely time for further action will be in December.

What will ultimately happen with the appropriations bills and the TANF extension remains an open question, and may largely depend upon the outcome of the November 5 elections. There seems little chance of a prescription drug benefit bill emerging from Congress at all this year, while an extension of UI benefits is possible if an appropriate vehicle for the provision is identified.

Social Security