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
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.