CHN: Most Expect Temporary Spending Bill Until the Next Administration
Although Congress is supposed to enact a dozen appropriations bills in time for the new fiscal year on October 1, most observers are predicting that temporary spending legislation will keep the government running without major changes until a new Administration is in office. Congressional leaders are reluctant to risk losing votes on overriding expected vetoes by President Bush, who continues to call for cuts in many domestic programs. Neither are they anxious to be forced into voting on expanded oil drilling, which Republican lawmakers are intent on adding to the Department of Interior appropriations bill. Seizing upon the high cost of gas to push for offshore drilling long opposed by environmentalists, Republican appropriators in the House were willing to thwart action on other appropriations bills (see HNR, July 1); their colleagues in the Senate are likely to try to follow suit.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has completed work on nine appropriations bills so far (all but the bills for the Legislative Branch, Defense, and Interior). The full House Committee has only completed work on five. Of the bills with human needs funding, the Senate full Committee has completed work on all four (Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, Labor-Health and Human Services-Education, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development). The House has reported out Subcommittee bills for all four, but has only approved Commerce-Justice-Science funding in full Committee.
Even though none of the appropriations bills have made it to either House or Senate floor, much less final enactment, advocates look to the funding levels put forward by the Committees as a signal of what they can expect next year. So far the signs are not hugely encouraging. While full information is not yet available for all human needs programs tracked by the Coalition on Human Needs, a preliminary look at the House appropriations bills shows that of 103 programs with funding levels in print, only 59 were funded at levels that allow for any growth in services (taking inflation into account) compared with the current year. It is worse in the Senate: of 108 programs for which there is information, only 36 were funded at levels that would permit growth in services. Although both House and Senate are far better than the President’s budget request (only 10 out of 110 programs had growth beyond inflation), neither will be adequate to meet the starkly growing need for assistance with housing, home energy, nutrition, and a broad range of social services. (For a preliminary table of human needs funding proposals for FY 2009, seehttp://www.chn.org/pdf/2008/fy09appropsPresHousecomSencom.pdf.)
To come closer to meeting need, advocates will have to press for funding through several vehicles. First, there may be opportunities through another supplemental appropriations bill to add funding for disaster relief and economic recovery for the current fiscal year (see article elsewhere in this issue). Second, advocates must work for more adequate funding in individual appropriations bills if they move farther along. Third, the temporary spending bill expected for the new fiscal year (FY 2009) may provide more than level-funding for certain programs if advocates and service providers can make the case for compelling need. Fourth, advocates will have to get ready to inform the new Administration and Congress about essential services requiring more funding as they scramble to complete work more than a third of the way through the fiscal year.
All of this means that especially urgent needs – responding to the recession’s impact on families, communities and states – will need attention in a supplemental spending bill before Congress leaves in September. Addressing urgent needs through the FY 2009 appropriations process will take too long.