Senate appropriators have been holding off on their FY12 bills, waiting for an agreement on overall discretionary spending to be reached through the ongoing bipartisan debt reduction talks. But because the end of the current fiscal year is just over three months away, they indicated yesterday that the Senate would move forward with their process despite not having a top-line discretionary number. The Senate Appropriations Committee will reveal their first FY12 spending bill next week. The first bill to be considered will be the Military Construction-VA bill. The House version of that bill passed the House on June 14, and the Senate subcommittee has indicated that they will follow the House’s lead and produce a similar bill. The House bill boosts funding for VA programs and benefits, while reducing military construction spending because of a lower need for base-closing funds. Overall discretionary spending is reduced by just $615 million. The Senate subcommittee markup is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, June 28th.
In addition to the Military-VA bill, the House has passed two other bills — Homeland Security and Agriculture. On Thursday, the House is set to begin debate on its FY12 Defense bill. Defense is the only House bill slated to get a spending boost over current levels, and might be a likely candidate for quick Senate consideration.
The bipartisan debt reduction group being led by Vice President Biden meets again today, as leaders in both chambers yesterday said every effort should be made to reach a long-term deal and avoid a short-term increase in the debt limit as Senate Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY) suggested. McConnell believes that a short-term increase in the debt limit might be necessary if a major debt reduction deal involving entitlements cannot be reached before the August 2nd deadline for raising the debt limit.
Reaching a majority in the House for any increase in the debt limit will be a challenge, which may have factored into McConnell’s contingency planning for a short-term measure as a backup. A number of House GOP freshmen promised they would never vote to increase the debt limit, while many others, along with GOP conservatives, want fundamental changes to dramatically cut the size of government. Negotiators may know by the end of the week whether a deal is possible. Central to that effort is resolving questions regarding revenues and entitlements, with debate over entitlements focused on whether there should be fundamental changes to Medicare and Medicaid as proposed by House Republicans, or whether billions could be saved through various adjustments to the programs, such as raising Medicare co-payments or deductibles.