Appropriations Bills, No Return to 1994

appropriations billsWhen asked what they remember as the most significant event of 1994, people tend to be divided between the massive 6.7 magnitude Northridge earthquake that devastated Los Angeles and the arrest of O.J. Simpson on murder charges following the infamous slow motion car chase in the white Bronco.  Some of us, however, also remember 1994 as the last time that Congress passed all the appropriations bills before the start of the fiscal year.

At the beginning of this year, a number of us speculated that Congress might once again accomplish this feat.  Last year, the House and Senate versions of the budget resolution were a full $91 billion apart, making any chance of passing a congressional budget resolution, and agreeing to a discretionary spending level (302 (a) allocation), impossible.  This year, however, was different.  The bipartisan passage of the Ryan-Murray budget agreement in December 2013 set the discretionary spending level for the remainder of FY14, and also for FY15, obviating the need for a FY15 budget resolution.  Ryan-Murray also set separate caps for defense and non-defense discretionary spending, so that was eliminated as a potential sticking point as well.

In addition, Ryan-Murray negated the scheduled sequester cuts for FY15, and even raised by a small amount the discretionary ceiling. In theory then, the appropriations committees were free to begin work on the FY15 bills at the outset of the year.  That became somewhat less realistic when the White House revealed that the President’s budget wouldn’t be submitted until the beginning of March, due to the fact that the FY14 budget hadn’t been resolved until the end of 2013.  Still, some of us clung to the idea that Congress would be able to pass most, if not all of the bills on time.

As of today, House Appropriations Chair Harold Rogers (R-KY) still hopes to bring to the floor and pass all 12 appropriations bills prior to the August recess.  Next week, the House is scheduled to vote on the first two bills, Legislative Branch and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, with the Commerce-Justice-Science bill to follow.  The Senate, which always follows the House in the appropriations process, is planning to bring the bills to the floor in June and July.

It will come as little surprise that at this point no one is predicting a return to 1994.  No one can predict when the next big one will hit California, and O.J’s in prison, and not cruising the 405 in his Bronco.  Looking at the Senate, and the even-odds possibility that Republicans will regain majority control of the chamber this November, it seems increasingly unlikely that they’ll pass any stand-alone appropriations bills, or even an omnibus prior to Election Day.  Be prepared for yet another continuing resolution at the start of the fiscal year.

Photo: PBS