Appropriations Update: The Parallel Track of the Process

Since our last Appropriations Update last month, there has not been much action on appropriations bills. On the House side, the full House has passed the Transportation-House and Urban Development bill, the Appropriations Committee has passed the Interior-Environment bill, and the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education bill has been released and is the final bill to make its way through the process. Meanwhile, in the Senate, no action has been taken since the June 22 blog and the full Senate has no intention of passing any of the bills that have been approved by the Appropriations Committee.

But even if both the House and Senate passed all their appropriations bills, that wouldn't be the end of the process. Because overall House spending levels are $19 billion lower than Senate levels, both chambers would need to compromise on funding in each bill--not to mention the policy riders that each body may disagree on. Ultimately, the individual processes will need to be resolved.

That's where the parallel track comes in. A POLITICO article sheds some light on how that would play out, and it is familiar to anyone following the budget in the past four fiscal years: continuing resolutions. Apparently, leaders in the House are willing to agree to a three month CR that funds the government at Senate/Budget Control Act levels for FY 2013 ($1.047 trillion) to avoid a drawn out fight. However, the article also says that no action will be taken until September, when FY 2012 ends.

Of course, it is unfortunate that Congress once again cannot follow the budget process or at least attempt to agree on funding levels in an omnibus bill. It is even more unfortunate that they cannot at least provide more certainty by agreeing to the levels in advance. Instead, lawmakers seem poised to wait once again until the eleventh hour to resolve the FY 2013 budget--and even then, only temporarily. That strategy carries risks, as last year showed: Congress seemed to have a smooth path to passing a CR at the start of FY 2012, but a fight over emergency funding threatened a shutdown in October. At the very least, we should avoid another event like that.

This budget cycle is becoming another example of why we need budget process reform. The current process is not cutting it.

Status of Appropriations Bills
Bill House Status Senate Status
Agriculture Passed by Committee Passed by Committee
Commerce-Justice-Science Passed by House Passed by Committee
Defense Passed by Committee No Action
Energy-Water Passed by House Passed by Committee
Financial Services Passed by Committee Passed by Committee
Homeland Security Passed by House Passed by Committee
Interior-Environment Passed by Committee No Action
Labor-HHS-Education No Action Passed by Committee
Legislative Branch Passed by House No Action
Military Construction-VA Passed by House Passed by Committee
State-Foreign Ops Passed by Committee Passed by Committee
Transportation-HUD Passed by House Passed by Committee

Source: House and Senate Appropriations Committee websites
Note: Italics represent change in status since last Appropriations Update