House Passes Hybrid Spending Bill; Year-long Budget Disaster Nears Conclusion

Continuing its year-long lesson in "How Not To Budget," the House Wednesday passed legislation that would freeze overall Fiscal Year 2011 discretionary spending at the Fiscal 2010 levels. However, the bill, which narrowly passed 212-206, would rejigger spending within the measure to fund several programs near and dear to members' hearts. The bill now goes to the Senate, which has its own ideas about how to end the budget debacle.

Congress has been flying by the seat of its pants all year, since no overall budget resolution was approved. To make matters worse, the House and Senate have sent no--that's right, no--annual appropriations measures to President Obama. Faced with the choice of turning off the lights in federal agencies or passing something, the House chose a hybrid measure. It's not really a Continuing Resolution because it does rearrange funding within the bill. The stopgap resolution that currently funds the federal government expires Dec. 18.

The bill sets discretionary spending at $1.09 trillion, which is a $46 billion cut from the budget request Obama sent to Capitol Hill earlier this year. The bill would increase funding for veterans and it would add funding for the Pell Grant program. It also would rescind funding for several programs that House appropriators believed was not needed.

House Republicans opposed the measure, they favored a short-term Continuing Resolution that would have lasted until early next year. That would have allowed them to influence the final spending measure, since they take control of the House in the next Congress. The Senate would like to add funding and include thousands of earmarked projects for members. The House bill is devoid of earmarks.

As the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has said over and over again, this is no way for the federal government to budget. Enacting a huge omnibus deprives virtually all members from being able to influence individual program funding. They must either support the entire package or oppose it. That is why the Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform spent two years studying the budget process and recently recommended an overhaul of the way the federal government decides how to spend money.