Perhaps it's wishful thinking to have believed otherwise, but it looks like the fiscal 2015 appropriations process is already dead.
By Billy House
21 July, 2014
Abandoning all pretense of the House and Senate agreeing on appropriations bills on time, House GOP leaders are tentatively planning to vote next week on a resolution keeping the government temporarily funded at current levels beyond the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year—and probably past Election Day.
A separate vote is also planned before members adjourn late next week for an August-long recess on a Republican plan to deal with the surge of unaccompanied minors to the U.S.-Mexico border, a response to President Obama's $3.7 billion supplemental request.
But the news Monday from senior Republican and Democratic aides of the GOP leaders' decision to move ahead on a continuing resolution for government spending for fiscal 2015 had not been anticipated—at least not this early.
It is "disappointing that the House leadership would give up so quick when there is still a lot of time left to get this done," said a Senate Democratic aide, who noted Monday that both chambers have additional legislative days scheduled in September in which to find some compromises.
It is not precisely clear what the aim of such an action by the House next week would be.
However, the move appears to represent at least an acknowledgment by House Republicans that any expectations earlier this year for a two-chamber agreement on all 12 spending bills for fiscal 2015 have crumbled.
Those hopes had been raised by the two-year budget deal agreed to by GOP Rep. Paul Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray last year, because spending levels—a usual source of much of the House and Senate fiscal friction—were preset for 2015. The two-year accord had set the budget at $1.014 trillion for fiscal 2015, up from $1.012 trillion this year. (Those figures do not include mandated spending on entitlement programs.)
Even with that agreement, the appropriations process has sputtered.
So far in the House, seven of the 12 annual spending bills due by Oct. 1 have been completed. But five remain unfinished. Meanwhile, the Senate continues to be locked in partisan disagreements about the amendment process on the floor, and it has yet to pass any of the spending bills.
The timing means the Democratic-led Senate would, at best, be handed the House bill right as the August break begins. But whether the House's action actually represents a strong-armed, "take-it-or-leave-it" maneuver, giving the Senate a choice of either going along or risk a government shutdown on Oct. 1, is unclear.
There has remained some hope among appropriators that lawmakers would still be able to agree on at least a handful of the 12 annual spending bills—and that they could possibly pass an omnibus package of those measures. There is a chance House Republicans are covering their bases, in case that does not happen.
On Monday, Michael Steel—a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner—commented only that "the House has passed seven appropriations bills in regular order. Thus far, the Democrat-controlled Senate has passed none. We hope Washington Democrats will choose to abandon gridlock and work with us to fund the American peoples' priorities."
A spokesman for Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy similarly pointed out that the Senate has not passed a singled appropriations bill. But Mike Long also insisted that what the House Republicans will do has not been decided. "At this time, no decision has been made to discontinue the appropriations process, much less consideration of a continuing resolution," he said.
Other aides, however, confirmed the action has been tentatively scheduled.
Details on the exact language of the House Republicans' resolution to keep government operating at current levels past Oct. 1 were not available.
The resolution is expected to extend all of the existing spending covered by the 12 annual bills through some date after the lame-duck session. That refers to the period after the Nov. 4 congressional elections where lawmakers will return to Washington to wrap up work before the end of the two-year session.
Under usual House transparency rules, details of the bill will have to be posted by Tuesday, if not earlier, for the House to take action on it by next Thursday, July 31, after which it is scheduled to begin the August break.
Also, House GOP leaders also have tentatively set a vote for next week on a Republican plan to address the border crisis, with Republicans saying their version would likely contain less than half of the $3.7 billion Obama has asked for. There also is expected to be a number of immigration-policy changes attached.
And both that package—and the continuing resolution—will have to share some of the spotlight as lawmakers prepare to vote next week on a resolution authorizing Boehner to sue Obama over his use of executive actions.