Thursday, September 29, 2011

Update on Congressional Appropriations and Debt Reduction Activities

The Senate and House have now passed a stop-gap continuing resolution (CR) to keep the Federal government running through October 4.  Following Senate defeat of a House-passed CR last Friday, both chambers worked this week to pass the CR, with the Senate passing the bill on Monday, and the House today (September 29). 

Under an arrangement reached by Democrats and Republicans over this past weekend, the Senate on Monday approved a CR that would fund the government for six weeks, through November 18, and (to buy time for the House to return next week to consider the six-week measure) also approved a one-week CR that would fund the government through October 4.  That second, one-week, CR is the one that the House approved today by unanimous vote in a pro forma session that did not require House members to return to Washington from their current one-week recess. The longer-term Senate bill would cut discretionary program spending by 1.4 percent compared to last fiscal year.  Those cuts would be in line with the mandate contained in the Budget Control Act of 2011, which established the $1.043 trillion budget cap for fiscal 2012 spending.

Meanwhile the Senate Appropriations Committee has been gradually unveiling its broad outline for an omnibus spending bill that will cover Federal funding for the remaining 45 weeks of this fiscal year following the expiration of the CR.  Senate appropriators have set a goal of finishing the omnibus bill by the weekend heading into the House Thanksgiving recess.  House leaders have all but resigned themselves to going along with the Omnibus approach, rather than passing any individual appropriations bills. 

The debt reduction "supercommittee" has met several times now, both publicly and in private. Most of their work sessions have been private; while public sessions have been primarily window dressing.  Here are the upcoming key supercommittee deadlines, as outlined in the Budget Control Act of 2011:
  • October 14: the last date that each House and Senate committee may transmit its recommendations for changes in law to reduce the deficit to the supercommittee.
  • November 23: the Supercommittee will consider those and other recommendations to make targeted cuts from Federal programs between now and November 23, and vote on a report and legislative language to make those cuts by November 23.  Approval is by simple majority vote of the supercommittee.
  • December 2:  by this date the supercommittee is to issue its approved report and legislative language to make cuts it has approved and agreed upon, presenting them to the House and Senate on a "take-it-or-leave-it" basis. 
  • December 23: Congress will need to vote on the supercommittee's proposal by this date.  If December 23 passes without Congressional approval of the supercommittee’s proposal, then “sequestration” forces automatic spending reductions of $1.2 trillion.

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