This week the Senate began considering appropriations legislation to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year and prevent a government shutdown. The bill is the result of a compromise reached between Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). Like legislation passed by the House last week, the Senate bill includes a total funding level that is consistent with the spending limits included in the Budget Control Act (BCA). Both bills leave the sequester required by the BCA in place, while providing some agencies with increased flexibility in allocating the cuts. Including the effect of sequestration, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that both bills would limit discretionary spending in Fiscal Year 2013 to $984 billion.The Senate bill significantly expands on the scope of the House bill by adding three more full appropriations bills: Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Homeland Security. The House legislation included only the Defense and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bills. Both the House and Senate proposals include a continuing resolution to fund most of the remaining agencies at current levels.
The Senate additions are likely to be a key issue that will need to be resolved with the House. Speaker John Boehner has called on the Senate to “either pass our bill or only make straightforward changes” and suggested that, if “extraneous provisions” are added, the House will pass a bill funding all agencies using a continuing resolution.The Concord Coalition urges policymakers to quickly resolve their differences to avoid a government shutdown when the existing continuing resolution expires on March 27. Then policymakers in both parties should resolve to return to the regular budget process for FY 2014 by agreeing on a budget resolution and passing individual appropriations bills rather than continuing resolutions that place spending on automatic pilot.External links:Senate Appropriations Committee SummaryCBO Cost Estimate of Senate BillCBO Analysis of the Effect of Sequestration on the Senate BilStatement of Administration Policy (OMB)Press Briefing by House Speaker John BoehnerEffects of Budget Uncertainty From Continuing Resolutions on Agency Operations (GAO)