There is still little solid information about how Congress and
the Administration will enact eleven "must pass" appropriations
bills for Fiscal Year 2003. Congress will not be coming back
into town until January, and while there are various plans being
floated about how to resolve this impasse, no one can predict how
this will all turn out.
Among those departments and agencies that are still be funded at
last year's levels are the National Science Foundation, the
Department of Energy, NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the
National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National
Institutes of Health and the Department of Education. Several of
these budgets are in some of the most contentious unresolved
appropriations bills. Only the two defense-related
appropriations bills are now law.
The 108th Congress will convene on January 7, with the Republican
party back in control of both chambers. Looming ahead of them is
President Bush's State of the Union Address on January 28. The
President has made it clear that he would like the appropriations
bills passed before he makes this speech. That gives Congress
three weeks to find a solution to what has eluded them for
Standing in the way of a resolution of this impasse is $9 to $15
billion of proposed spending, the amount being dependent on who
is counting. That is the amount that the Senate appropriations
bills exceed the overall $750 billion limit advocated by both the
White House and House Republicans. No one is budging.
There is a range of strategies to get these bills passed. There
is hope that some of the eleven bills might be passed separately.
The outlook seems more promising for a single, large omnibus bill
containing all of the outstanding appropriations bills. The
first step in the crafting of this bill would be agreement on
what its total price tag should be. To come in at the
President's level some cuts would have to be made, and no one can
predict with any certainty what they might entail. If this
process goes forward, the ultimate department and agency budgets
will be determined by the House and Senate leadership, White
House, and key appropriators. The measure would come to the
floor for a single up-or-down vote.
Another probability is the use of creative bookkeeping. There
are a variety of time-tested measures that could be employed to
make the numbers add up. Fiscal conservatives and the White
House are against this approach.
The third outcome would result from a continuation of the
impasse. If a resolution cannot be found by the President's Day
holiday beginning February 17, Congress would most likely pass a
continuing resolution to maintain flat funding at FY 2002 levels
until October 1. This approach would have severe repercussions
on the new Department of Homeland Security, and would deny the
National Science Foundation its projected large budget increase.
Forcing the Congress to take this approach would be the brand-new
crop of thirteen appropriations bills that would need to get
All of this will become clearer by mid-January.