Inside (The Beltway) Scoop
Created by on 08/08/2013

By Jennifer Zeitzer

Congress Fails to Pass Domestic Spending Bills; Continuing Resolution Expected in September; Lawmakers Return Home for August Recess
The gridlock and dysfunction present throughout the first session of the 113th Congress was on full display again in late July as lawmakers struggled to come to terms with their conflicting approaches to budget and policy issues. Instead of accumulating legislative accomplishments to share with their constituents, members of Congress left Washington for a five-week summer break having made no substantive progress on a growing list of urgent unfinished business. The Farm bill, immigration reform, and the fiscal year (FY) 2014 appropriations bills are just a few of the major issues facing lawmakers when they return to Capitol Hill this fall.
The status of the FY 2014 appropriations bills illustrates the lack of legislative progress. Despite vowing to return to "regular order," the House has passed only four of the twelve measures, and the Senate has approved none. The Labor, Health, and Human Services (LHHS) bill that funds the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has yet to be considered by the House Appropriations Committee. Citing scheduling conflicts, the Committee abruptly postponed a planned July 25 vote on the measure. The cancellation came as Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee released a new report projecting cuts to domestic programs if sequestration continues in FY 2014. According to the report, NIH faces a cut of $6.7 billion below the FY 2013 level after sequestration.
When the House and Senate failed in their first attempt to pass an FY 2014 appropriations bill funding domestic agencies and programs during the final week before the summer recess, it became evident that Congress has started to realize the impact of the next round of sequestration cuts. The House leadership unexpectedly stopped consideration of the 2014 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) Appropriations bill after Democrats and moderate Republicans, upset with the severity of the cuts ($4.4 billion below the FY 2013 total after sequestration, bringing spending to below 2006 levels), made it clear that they would not provide the votes needed to approve it.
Following the leadership’s decision to abandon the T-HUD bill, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) issued a press release with his strongest opposition to date on the spending cuts stating, “Sequestration – and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts – must be brought to an end.” A day later, the Senate T-HUD bill collapsed under Republican objections that spending levels were too generous and would exceed the caps established by the Budget Control Act.
Failure to pass the T-HUD and Interior spending bills is an encouraging sign that not even House Republicans can live with the austerity required by sequestration. This hopefully means that both parties will recognize the need to adopt a more realistic strategy for addressing the current budget challenges and that lawmakers will develop a deficit reduction plan that does not rely on cuts alone to discretionary spending in order to achieve savings. In an interview with Fox News, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said House Republicans know that sequestration is not the best way to reduce spending.

Congress is in recess until September 9 and then out for another break between  September 19–23, leaving lawmakers only nine legislative days to pass a “continuing resolution” (CR) to keep the government funded beyond the end of the fiscal year on September 30. Two key decisions that need to be resolved are the spending level of the CR and how long it will last. According to press reports, “President Barack Obama is open to a short-term budget deal to postpone the sequester at the start of the next fiscal year, although his goal remains a permanent replacement of the automatic spending cuts.” House Speaker John Boehner indicated that he would support a short-term CR and added that “the idea of operating for an entire year under a CR is not a good way to do business.”