Federal Relations

November 17, 2011

Today in Congress

The House begins work at 10:00 am.  They plan to debate and hold votes in the afternoon on a constitutional balanced budget amendment, and the first minibus appropriations bill for the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce- Justice-Science, and Transportation-HUD.  This measure also contains a new continuing resolution (CR) to extend through December 16th.  The Senate will also convene at 10:00 am and will consider the FY12 defense authorization bill.  Both chambers had originally planned to be out of session next week for the Thanksgiving holiday, but with the deadline looming for the Joint Deficit Reduction Committee to make their recommendations we expect to see members working through the weekend and into early next week.

FY12 APPROPRIATIONS ENDGAME:  It is becoming clear that appropriators will need to consider a year-end omnibus bill to get the remaining nine of 12 stalled FY12 spending bills enacted.  The leaders of the House Appropriations Committee – including our own Congressman Norm Dicks – expressed a strong desire to finish the FY12 appropriations process before they leave for the year rather than allowing it to spill into 2012.  In order to avoid a year-long CR, Congress will have to clear an omnibus.

JOINT DEFICIT REDUCTION COMMITTEE:  Negotiations over a deficit reduction agreement seemed near an impasse yesterday, with few signs that a partisan gap over raising tax revenue and cutting entitlements could be bridged.   Time is running out for the committee, which must present a plan to cut the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion by November 23rd or automatic spending cuts will be triggered (to take effect in 2013).   Realistically, the panel would need to have a deal in place this week – or by early Monday morning at the very latest – to meet a requirement that the Congressional Budget Office score it 48 hours in advance of any vote.

The obstacles to success are familiar.  Democrats continue to demand more revenue increases and Republicans are still calling for deeper cuts to health care programs.  One version of “Plan B” would have the committee vote on competing Republican and Democratic proposals, aimed at forcing the other side’s hand.  Republicans, meanwhile, have begun pondering potential fallback plans, including moving legislation that would most likely cut less than $1.2 trillion but softens the blow of the mandated cuts.  There’s even talk of coupling a deficit-reduction package with must-pass measures like unemployment insurance to sweeten the deal for Democrats and President Barack Obama.