Created by on 11/15/2011

The process for completing the long overdue fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget took a key step forward on November 1st as the Senate passed its first “minibus” appropriations bill (HR 2112) by a bipartisan vote of 69-30. HR 2112 combines the Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-Housing spending measures and provides $6.7 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), a reduction of $162 million (2.4 percent) below the FY 2011 level. Following the Senate vote, a formal conference committee was established to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate levels in the three bills that formed the “minibus.” This is the first time in two years that a formal conference committee was appointed to complete work on an appropriations bill. Negotiators were on track to finish their deliberations around Veterans Day in the hope of bringing the compromise package to the House and Senate for a final vote during the week of November 14th.
Federal agencies are currently operating under yet another temporary funding agreement known as a “continuing resolution” (CR) that expires on November 18th. A second CR funding the government through mid-December is expected to be attached to the Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-Housing “minibus.” Another “minibus” containing the Energy and Water, Financial Services, State-Foreign Operations bills appears to be headed for Senate consideration the week of November 14th as well. Funding for the National Institutes of Health remains in limbo amid statements from appropriators who have said that the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education spending bill will almost certainly be attached to whichever “minibus” is the last to receive a vote.
In related news, the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction (JCDR) spent the last few weeks meeting privately, and few details are available about what has been discussed behind closed doors. The JCDR heard testimony from Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf who noted that due to the strict spending caps included in the Budget Control Act (BCA), discretionary funding will decline from 7.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2012 to 5.5 percent of GDP in 2021, the lowest level in decades. Elmendorf also reminded the JCDR that the discretionary caps in the BCA set spending levels well below the rate of inflation.
Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees sent letters urging the JCDR not to reduce discretionary spending any further, commenting that deep budget cuts were enacted in the final FY 2011 spending bills. A letter sent by Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee stated that if the JCDR fails to issue recommendations by their November 23, 2011 deadline, the mandatory across-the-board cuts that would go into effect in 2013 would reduce the NIH budget by nearly eight percent and the NSF budget by $530 million.
House and Senate leaders have also released their respective 2012 calendars. The House will reconvene in Washington on January 17th and will be in recess at least one week every month. They will take a five week summer break, followed by a long recess in the fall (from October 8th though mid-November) in preparation for the 2012 elections. The House is already anticipating having to hold a “lame duck” session next year in order to complete unfinished business. The schedule lists the House as being in session from November 13th through December 14th, with a break during Thanksgiving week.
Although the schedule does not include a lot of detail beyond the month of September, it appears that the Senate will take fewer breaks compared to the House. The Senate will reconvene on January 17th (a week after the House comes back) and has scheduled their President’s Day, Easter/Passover, Independence Day, and summer breaks at the same time as the House. At the moment, the Senate schedule does not indicate whether they will be in recess in October or if they will hold a “lame duck” session in November/December. Brief summaries of the House and Senate schedules are as follows:
2012 U.S. House Schedule
January 2 - January 16 Recess
January 17 Second session of the 112th Congress convenes
February 20 - February 24 President's Day recess
March 12 - March 16 St. Patricks Day recess
April 2 - April 13 Easter/Passover recess
April 30 - May 4 Recess
May 21 - May 29 Memorial Day recess
June 11 - June 15 Recess
July 2 - July 6 Independence day recess
August 6 - September 7 Summer recess
September 17 - September 18 Rosh Hashanah (no votes)
September 24 - September 28 Yom Kippur recess
October 8 - November 12 Recess
November 19 - November 26 Thanksgiving recess
2012 U.S. Senate Schedule
January 2 - January 20 Recess                                                        
January 23 Senate convenes
February 20 - February 24 President's Day recess
April 2 - April 13 Easter/Passover recess
April 30 - May 4 Recess
May 28 - June 1 Memorial Day recess
July 2 - July 6 Independence Day recess
August 6 - September 7 Summer recess