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FYI Number 104: September 18, 2002

Two Weeks to Go With No End in Sight

Although the new fiscal year starts in less than two weeks, most attention on Capitol Hill does not seem to be focused as much on October 1 as on November 5 when voters will determine what party will control the House and Senate next year. The result is almost a certain expectation that Congress will pass, and the President will sign, short-term legislation to maintain government funding at current levels into the start of FY 2003.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd (D-WV) cleared all thirteen of the appropriations bills through his committee by July. Byrd had the advantage of greater party unity and $10 billion more for his bills, advantages not shared by House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young (R-FL).

Lines have been drawn about how much money the federal government should spend for programs funded in the FY 2003 Labor, Health, and Human Services Appropriations Bill, and neither side is yielding. Fiscal conservatives want the House version of this legislation to spend no more than that requested by the President. Other representatives in both parties contend that this ceiling will shortchange popular programs such as education, and are demanding more money. This has resulted in a deadlock, with many seeing this bill as setting the stage for the resolution of the other appropriations bills.

Until this bill moves, progress on other appropriations bills in the House will be stalled. The House Appropriations Committee has passed its version of the FY 2003 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, but has not issued its report detailing spending recommendations. The VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Bill providing funding for NSF and NASA has not been written, with subcommittee chairman James Walsh (R-NY) saying that he needs a few billion dollars more for his programs. The Commerce, Justice, State Bill, funding NIST, is also stalled. The only bill that FYI tracks that has been passed on both the House and Senate floors is the Defense Appropriations Bill. It is thought that this bill might be conferenced before Congress recesses for the election, leaving only the FY 2003 domestic programs in play.

Congress is now looking to go out around October 11. Whether it comes back has yet to be determined. Some are advocating that a short term spending measure, called a continuing resolution, be passed providing only a few weeks of money. After the election, a lame duck Congress would come back and finish work on the appropriations bills. Others are calling for a continuing resolution that would fund government operations until the next Congress convenes, with perhaps new parties in control of the House and Senate.

No one knows how this impasse will be resolved. It is not unusual for short term funding measures to be utilized, as no wants another shutdown of the government. With attention focused on the election on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, decisions have yet to be made on when the final appropriations bills will be passed, and how much money they will provide.

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

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