The House takes a break from considering appropriations bills on the floor this week but the Appropriations Committee continues to process its bills. Slated for full Committee consideration this week are the Agriculture; Transportation, Housing and Urban Development; and Financial Services bills. After these bills are processed, the only remaining bills left for subcommittee and full committee action will be the Labor/HHS bill and the Interior and Environment bill with the latter bill being marked up in subcommittee this week.
On the Senate side, the Appropriations Committee has reported all but 3 of its bills - Interior and Environment; Legislative Branch; and Department of Defense. The full Senate has not considered any appropriations bills this year.
The road ahead doesn't get any easier. Some of the remaining bills contain funding for agencies at the heart of long-standing policy disputes. House Republicans will try to utilize the "power of the purse" to delay or stop the implementation of policies that they oppose. And even when the Appropriations Committee is able to report legislation on a bipartisan basis, amendments being offered and adopted on the Floor can jeopardize that bipartisan support. A case in point - the Homeland Security Appropriations bill was under a veto threat even before the House adopted two immigration-related amendments to the bill that drove away many Democrats who otherwise might have supported the legislation. Ranking Member David Price (D-NC) said '(a)lthough I came into the debate planning to support the bill, these amendments tipped the scales. I could not support the bill on final passage, nor could the ranking member of the full committee and the vast majority of the Democratic Caucus." On the Senate side, in a break from tradition, the Appropriations Committee has seen an increasing number of bills being reported along party lines.
Labor/HHS contains funding that will attract efforts to delay or block implementation of key components of health care reform as well as various provisions relating to abortion. The Agriculture and Financial Services bills will be center stage in a battle over implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act. The House and Senate Committee versions contain vastly different funding levels with the Senate increasing funding for the CFTC by $103 million (for a total of $308 million) while the House decreases funding from the current level of $205 million by about $25 million. The Financial Services bill, which contains funding for the SEC, will be another arena where the Dodd-Frank battle will play out over funding for the SEC. In addition to the major policy fights, each bill will attract amendments on a host of other issues.
Differences in funding levels, policy riders and a rapidly shrinking number of scheduled work days all weigh heavily against enactment of a significant number of appropriation bills prior to October 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year. A continuing resolution, which has become the normal course of business in Washington, will be required. Most observers expect that to extend funding into the lame duck session.
The House and the Senate, in essence, are laying down their markers on funding levels and policy riders for the large end-of-the-year negotiation that will take place during the lame duck session. The dynamic is complicated by the divide between Senate and House Republicans over the total funding level of discretionary appropriations for FY 2013 with Senate Republicans adhering to the top-line number contained in the Budget Control Act of August 2011 and the House Republicans living under a self-imposed reduction in that number.
In the meantime, both sides seem content to engage in the policy battles in an attempt to score political points heading into the heart of the campaign season.