Appropriators Strike Optimistic Note, Despite Heavy Lifting Ahead

Posted November 5, 2013 at 2:35pm

In an era where continuing resolutions have replaced annual spending bills for many government agencies, appropriators — once the kings of the Hill — have seen their status drop precipitously.

But while the two chambers remain locked in a bitter partisan battle over spending priorities, the chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees can agree on one thing: They want their bills passed this year.

While this may be good news for other agencies, it could complicate things for the Defense Department, which has always managed to get an annual appropriation, even when other federal agencies are forced to operate under a full-year CR.

Democrats, however, are suggesting that simply can’t be the case anymore.

“Defense is part of our responsibility, but so is education and Head Start, transportation and energy, and that’s why we have 12 bills,” said Nita M. Lowey of New York, the ranking Democrat of the House Appropriations Committee and a member of the House-Senate budget conference committee that has been tasked with agreeing on a budget blueprint by mid-December.

Across the aisle, House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers of Kentucky has said he hopes to get an omnibus spending bill through Congress that includes all 12 appropriations measures, a marked difference from the way things have been done in recent years.

The prospects for completing all 12 bills, however, are quite slim, given how far apart the two chambers are on spending levels for the individual bills.

Recognizing the heavy lift of doing so before the current continuing resolution expires Jan. 15, Mikulski and Rogers are urging the budget conference committee to agree to an overall discretionary number by no later than Dec. 2. Even better, they wrote in an Oct. 31 letter, would be Nov. 22 to allow appropriators “to begin their much-delayed work of coming to a conclusion on the FY 2014 spending bills.”

Nonetheless, if the Defense Department has to wait for lawmakers to agree to funding for other government agencies, it could be waiting a long time.