When Congress returns from recess in mid-November, lawmakers will have a full plate of legislative business to address before adjourning for the end of 113th Congress. The new Congress will be sworn in next January.
Among the most pressing items is completion of the appropriations process for fiscal year (FY) 2015. Although the new fiscal year began on 1 October, Congress has yet to enact any of the 12 bills that collectively fund the federal government. Unlike in 2013—when the federal government shutdown because lawmakers could not reach a deal on spending—this year Congress passed a stopgap measure to keep the government open through 11 December 2014.
Some Washington, DC insiders are hopeful that the House and Senate will be able to pass a catchall bill to set funding levels for FY 2015, rather than enact a longer Continuing Resolution that would hold programs at the FY 2014 funding level for a second year. This will likely depend on the outcome of the elections, as Republicans are predicted to gain control of the Senate. If the upper chamber changes hands next year, current Republican Senators may try to delay action on appropriations until their party is in the majority. Senator Ted Cruz and other conservatives have already tried to stall spending decisions during the lame-duck session.
The top lawmakers on the Senate and House Appropriations Committees remain hopeful that a comprehensive deal can be reached. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) told staffers to use the congressional recess to resolve differences between House and Senate spending bills. Representative Harold Rogers (R-KY) compared the process to last year, once a budget deal was reached setting overall spending levels for FY 2014 and 2015. That bipartisan agreement facilitated the completion of the appropriations process for 2014 and has enabled each chamber to pass many 2015 appropriations bill out of committee.
Although the House and Senate legislation differs significantly for some agencies and programs, both chambers have adhered to an overall funding level of $1.014 trillion, an increase of less than $200 billion above FY 2014. Also notable is the top line spending for each appropriation bill. Four bills would allocate the same or near identical total amounts of funding in the House and Senate. Two other bills differ by only one percent.
Fights over proposed policy riders are anticipated, even when proposed spending levels are comparable between the chambers. Some bills have already been held up in the Senate because of threats to force votes on divisive amendments regarding environmental regulations and health care reform.
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