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FYI Number 122: September 28, 2001

Little Movement on Appropriations Bills

There has not been significant movement on the FY 2002 appropriations bills during the last week. Congress has been in session for only a few days this week. Attention is still focused on national security problems. And the White House and Congress are unable to decide on how much money the government should spend in the new fiscal year that starts on Monday.

It is not unusual for appropriations bills to still be in a state of limbo at this point. Deliberations are often long and difficult, as the thirteen appropriations bills total hundreds of billions of dollars, and often have major policy implications. What makes this budget cycle so unpredictable are the still to be determined strategies that will be used to combat terrorism, and what will be the cost of those strategies. Compounding this uncertainty is the weakening economy, and the implications that it will have on federal revenues and the size of the budget surplus.

Congress is, to some extent, returning to a more normal schedule. Hearings are again being held on a wide range of topics, and some legislation is moving on the floors. There is talk about completing the education bill, and the possibility of passing other legislation.

There is still a strong sense of bipartisanship in both chambers, although some muted tones of discontent can be heard. Fiscal conservatives have expressed concern that in a rush to complete the appropriations bills federal spending will greatly increase.

The most significant procedural hurdle is the still-to-be- resolved discretionary spending number. The Office of Management and Budget is now considering whether it should accept a compromise figure of $686 billion arrived at by key Republican and Democratic appropriators. This figure allows for additional defense spending above that earlier requested, up to $4 billion in additional education spending, and money to resolve differences in how the House and Senate keep their books. This figure is higher than what the White House and some conservative Members of Congress are willing to readily accept. The thinking is that without agreement on this number, it makes less sense to write the final versions of the appropriations bills. Key Senate appropriators from both parties have expressed frustration about the lack of agreement on this final number. The difference is $7 billion, or about 1% of the original figure.

Several of the major appropriations bills have not yet been sent to one or both floors. They include the Defense and Labor-Health and Human Services bills.

Most of the appropriations bills will likely remain in an unfinished state for several weeks. In the meantime, continuing resolutions will maintain government functions at the current level of service.

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095

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