Dude, where’s my funding?

Posted on June 9, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Omnibus, minibus, continuing resolution, consolidated appropriations: Aw yes, it is that time of year again when Congress is advancing spending bills (called appropriations bills), attempting to get everything approved before the end of the fiscal year.

In order to keep the entire government operating, Congress needs to pass 13 appropriations bills before October 1. Rarely do they meet this deadline.

Funding, as any government observer knows, is the primary function of Congress. There isn’t a year that goes by without a fair amount of drama and suspense surrounding how the appropriations process will be completed; or for that matter, if it will be completed.

In 1995, Congress made good on its threat to shutdown the government. Arguably a poor move for all involved. Other, less drastic options are available and a shutdown is the least likely this year.

Given the electorate climate this year, many Members of Congress are in full self-preservation mode and could perceive contentious spending votes as adding misery to an already tenuous reelection bid. To avoid making tough spending decisions which could affect elections, it’s likely that Congress will turn to a concurring resolution, or CR, as the fix of choice until early November. A CR would allow the government to function on the authority of the previous funding bill, basically extending the fiscal year. Under a CR, all budget lines remain “flat,” meaning no agency would receive an increase to their overall appropriation. With a CR, pay-raises could not be granted or new programs begun. However, authorized or other programs with statutory authority could receive increases if an agency decided to shift money within their jurisdiction.

After Election Day, an omnibus appropriations bill is the likely next-step remedy. An omnibus, by definition, takes all the remaining, un-passed, funding legislation and rolls it into one package. In years when only a few bills remain un-resolved, the omnibus is warmly called a minibus.

Yes, funding increases are provided in an omnibus as this is basically just one large appropriations bill. But given the size of these all-in-one bills, transparency becomes the main criticism of such a vehicle and they are often derided as containing hidden pork or other excessive funding.

This brings us back to the preferred process of passing 13 individual appropriation bills. Each appropriation bill, passed by its subcommittee of reference, voted on individually in each chamber and then “conferenced” (a process of negotiation so that both House and Senate versions are identical) produces a far a better product than any other method.

Regardless of Congress’ best efforts to control expenditures, rein-in discretionary appropriations and to find a balance between receipts and expenses, Congress will spend money.

How FY 11 is ultimately funded will largely be determined by the results of the mid-term elections. In the end, the opaque omnibus is the likely victor this year.

Appropriations legislation can be tracked at: http://www.thomas.gov/home/approp/app11.html

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