Friday Appropriations Update: Continuing Resolution Vote Must Happen Next Week

It's been an exciting few weeks on the Hill, with President Obama's OMB director nominee sitting before two Senate hearings before being blocked by a Democrat, House Republicans released their Pledge to America, and an effort to extendthe Bush tax cuts failed to move in the Senate. With all this excitement, I guess congressional appropriators couldn't find much time to work on their appropriations bills. In fact, the House Appropriations Committee made exactly zero progress on the fiscal year 2011 budget, meaning we're still waiting on the full committee to vote on ten appropriations bills. The Senate hasn't been much better, with its appropriations committee only approving two bills, and no floor votes. Which, as recent congressional witness Stephen Colbert might say, brings us to today's word: continuing resolution.

[You can also access the document here.]

One reason for the lack of appropriations activity is that, for the past few weeks, Democratic leadership has been working on a continuing resolution, which is essentially a motion to temporarily fund the government, usually mimicking the previous fiscal year's funding levels. These resolutions are used whenever Congress doesn't meet the October 1 deadline, which is when the new fiscal year starts. And considering October 1 is only one week away and Congress has passed zero appropriations bills, there is no chance, literally none whatsoever, that Congress will be able to vote through a budget in time. Therefore, it'll need to approve a continuing resolution sometime next week. If Congress fails to do so, the federal government will shut down, a situation some on the Hill have been talking about.

The key questions on the resolution will be how long it spans and how controversial its provisions are. The White House requested about $20 billion worth of additional spending items (including a small amount of school funding, Postal Service assistance, and Pell Grant funding), a move congressional Republicans objected to. A longer-term resolution would most likely face similar Republican ire, as it is easier to fit in additional spending on longer, more expensive bills.

Since there is little room for failure (the House won't be back for votes until Wednesday, the day before the last day in the fiscal year), it seems congressional Democrats are leaning towards a shorter, more narrowly focused continuing resolution. Late today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed for cloture on what will likely be the continuing resolution, setting up a possible Tuesday Senate vote. A Congressional Quarterly article on Reid's actions cited Democrats as saying that the resolution will probably be "clean," or devoid of add-ons. Although, since Congress has yet to pass a single appropriations bill, it will likely need quite a few continuing resolutions to give itself enough time to finish the 2011 budget cycle.

All in all, this is shaping up to be the worst appropriations cycle we've seen in years. I think now the most likely outcome is one giant omnibus bill containing most (if not all) of the year's appropriations bills.

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