June 18, 2012

This Week in Congress

By Christy Gullion

The House was in recess last week, while the Senate kept itself busy with continued consideration of the “Farm Bill”. This bill authorizes agricultural research programs, as well as a host of other programs that support the US agriculture industry. The Senate Appropriations Committee also considered a few more spending bills, including the FYFiscal Year 2013 Financial Services spending bill and the FYFiscal Year 2013 Labor-HHS-Education bill, which funds the National Institutes of Health. Both the House and Senate will be in session this week, beginning the busy rush that will lead up to the 4th of July recess week.

Appropriations & the Sequester:  Having passed nearly half their annual spending bills, House appropriators return this week expecting to take on three additional FY 2013 measures:  Interior-Environment, Transportation-HUD, and Agriculture. However, slow-moving negotiations on a long-term surface transportation reauthorization (highway and transit programs) could force leaders to hold off on moving the spending bill for the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which would provide $51.6 billion in discretionary funding.

Appropriators from both chambers are seeking answers from the Obama Administration on how it plans to carry out automatic spending cuts (sequester) early next year, as directed by the Budget Control Act approved last August.  Senate appropriators unanimously backed a recent provision that would require the administration to report to Congress with details about how the sequester would be applied. That provision in the Senate Financial Services Appropriation bill is nearly identical to language found in the House Financial Services draft bill. It would require the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is funded under the measure, to send Congress a list of each account that would be subject to the automatic cuts, organized by appropriations subcommittee, within 60 days of enactment. It also would require the President to report within 30 days on how the sequester would be applied for FY 2013 based either on appropriations bills or the current rate of a continuing resolution (CR), if one is in effect.

Surface Transportation Negotiations:  House and Senate negotiators say they are still talking about a new surface transportation bill but the two chambers now face a serious schedule crunch. The House officially gets back to work this afternoon following a weeklong recess, which leaves just two weeks of work before the next scheduled recess period. With the two sides still so far apart on big issues, more observers now think Congress will have to extend current road and transit programs so they don’t expire at the end of this month.

The next two weeks is critical for lawmakers as they try to finish the highway bill, and at the same time they are negotiating final legislation on student loan interest rates, flood insurance, Food and Drug Administration user fees, and farm policy. And to add fuel to the fire, their attention could be diverted at any moment from a pending Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act.

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