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FYI Number 125: November 18, 2002

Congress Looks to 2003 for Resolution of Appropriations Deadlock

Hopes that eleven deadlocked FY 2003 appropriations bills might be passed by a post-election Congress evaporated last week with the decision to fund government programs until January 11, 2003. Under this plan, a new Congress will take up the remaining bills when it reconvenes, intending to clear this legislation before President Bush sends his FY 2004 budget request to the Capitol.

The House of Representatives has essentially gone home until January, and the Senate is expected to do so within the next few days. Before leaving, the House passed a continuing resolution providing funding at FY 2002 levels into January. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) had hoped to pass at least a few of the less controversial bills, but the House's action forced Byrd's hand.

When the Senate returns, Byrd will no longer be chairman of the appropriations committee, with that position being passed to Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Although it might be expected that Stevens' accession to the chairmanship would significantly smooth the appropriations process - for both the current year and next year - that may not be necessarily true. Stevens has had some well-publicized clashes with the director of the Office of Management and Budget, with Stevens at one time saying that Director Mitchell Daniels could best defuse a spending conflict by going home to Indiana. Daniels declined to do so, and will be pressing Stevens and the other appropriators in the next two months to adhere to President Bush's spending target for the FY 2003 bills.

This logjam will only be broken when the White House and the congressional leadership agree on the spending target. Byrd and Stevens were able to get all thirteen appropriations bills passed on the Senate floor earlier this year, but only because they "spent" about $13 billion more than the President had proposed. When the House tried to pass these bills using the President's number, the process deadlocked when it reached the very expensive Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill.

The plan is for the leadership and staff of the appropriations committees and the White House to produce a spending agreement in the next 55 days that Congress will vote on when it returns. The thinking is that the end result may be in the form of one or two massive omnibus appropriations bills that will take the remaining eleven bills and bundle them into one giant package (defense and military construction have been passed.) All parties will be trying to clear the decks before the Administration sends its next budget request to Congress, touching off another difficult year in the appropriations cycle. Complicating the resolution of this conflict will be fiscal conservatives wanting to hold the line on spending, with other Members seeing the omnibus bill as the last chance in the current fiscal year to increase spending on favorite programs or projects.

Until this legislation is resolved, federal program managers will be operating under last year's spending rate, trying to make coherent plans for the rest of the year with an uncertain budget.

Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org (301) 209-3095

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