Line Items: Extenders Debate Ends; Appropriations Season Begins

Extenders Put on Hold – Legislation to extend some tax breaks and expanded unemployment insurance has been put on the back burner because senators could not agree on how to finance the package. Senate leaders decided to move on after they failed to end debate on the latest version in a 57-41 cloture vote.

Temporary “Doc Fix” Makes it Through – Congress did manage to enact a fully paid-for extension of the so-called “doc fix” that delays a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments to physicians until the end of November. The measure was broken out from the extenders bill after it became apparent that agreement could not be reached on the larger package.

Appropriations Begins – The appropriations season began last week with the first spending bill clearing a subcommittee. The Homeland Security appropriations bill was marked up for the full House Appropriations Committee. As we pointed out last week, conditions could cause the process to be even more unwieldy than usual. Many of the measures could wait for a lame duck session after the November elections.

No Budget Blueprint This Year – Leaders in Congress finally confirmed last week what had been long expected, that there will be no budget resolution this year. They will instead opt for what they are calling a “budget enforcement resolution” that will “deem” spending caps for one year, not the five year blueprint that the budget resolution usually provides. The lack of a resolution underscores the need for serious budget process reform.

Decisions Loom for War Supplemental – With the Pentagon pressuring Congress to provide funds to continue operations in Afghanistan and Iraq ASAP, leaders must decide what else they will try to attach to the bill. Such must-pass legislation often attracts riders and House leaders are considering adding $10 billion to prevent teacher and other public employee layoffs and nearly $5 billion for Pell Grants. As has been pointed out, the Pell Grant money may be important, but it is not an emergency as the fund has enough to cover expenses for the coming school year. In the quest to avoid offsets, leaders are playing a game of chicken with our troops.