Director’s Desk: June 9, 2014

Kenneth Gold | June 9, 2014

It’s been thirty-six years since Affirmed won the Triple Crown, horse racing’s greatest challenge.  With California Chrome’s defeat on Saturday, twelve horses have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown since 1978, only to fail in the 1½-mile Belmont Stakes, the longest and most demanding of the three races.  Some observers believe that winning the Triple Crown in the current horse racing environment is impossible.

It’s been only twenty years since Congress passed all the individual appropriations bills prior to the start of the fiscal year, a feat that has become Congress’s greatest challenge.  Yet I still think California Chrome had a better shot at winning at Belmont than Congress has at passing all 12 bills this year or in the foreseeable future.  Some observers believe that passing all the appropriations bills on time in the current congressional environment is impossible.

In my February 12 Director’s Desk I suggested that conditions were more favorable than they’ve been in some time for passing all 12 appropriations bills prior to the start of the fiscal year.  Unlike the previous few years, the FY 15 process began with an already agreed-to discretionary spending limit (302 (a) allocation), as a result of last year’s bipartisan Ryan-Murray agreement.  Just one year earlier, the House and Senate versions of the budget resolution were a full $91 billion apart, scuttling any chances of a congressional budget resolution and agreement on discretionary spending levels.

Early in the year Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray announced that her committee wouldn’t even be taking up a budget resolution, and while House Budget Chair Paul Ryan’s committee did pass a House budget resolution, it adhered to the Ryan-Murray spending level for FY 15, at $1.014 trillion, as well as to the agreed-to split between defense and non-defense spending.

House Appropriations Chair Harold Rogers stated that he intended to bring to the floor and pass all 12 appropriations bills prior to the August recess.  On April 30, the House approved the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill, the first of the fiscal year 15 spending bills; and the next day, May 1, approved the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill. A full month passed before the House approved the third spending bill, Commerce-Justice-Science, on May 30.  Still, with a full four months to go, is there a reasonable chance that Congress will pass all 12 bills prior to the start of the fiscal year?

Passing all 12 bills in the House before the August recess won’t be an easy lift, even with the clear majority that Republicans have in the chamber; just ask Speaker Boehner how easy it’s been to hold his party together over the last two years.  However, passing the bills in the House, with Democrats in the majority in the other chamber, is still kind of like winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown – not an easy feat, but the biggest challenge still lies ahead.

In fact, at this point it appears unlikely that Congress will pass any of the bills, at least as stand-alone measures. The Senate has yet to consider a single bill on the floor, and Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski earlier this week stated that she’d like to see some of the bills “bundled” together as an omnibus or series of minibuses. At this point I expect some of the appropriations bills to pass prior to October 1, most likely as one or two “minibuses”, but also look for a continuing resolution (CR) that will likely extend to sometime after the November elections.

Ken Gold is director of the Government Affairs Institute

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