September 10, 2012

Congress Back to Work

By Christy Gullion

Congress is back in session this week after the long August break and political party conventions. There are few legislative priorities on the agenda before Congress breaks again at the end of the month through the November elections.

This week, the House will release and then vote on a six-month continuing resolution (CR) for FY2013, one of the few items that lawmakers must complete before returning to the campaign trail. The CR would keep the federal government running from October through March. A vote could take place as early as this Thursday. House passage would send the measure to the Senate, where it would likely pass next week as lawmakers are on recess the last week of September and current funding runs out September 30th.

Federal agencies will face lean times operating under a six-month CR, as the measure will reflect the $1.047 trillion FY2013 cap set for discretionary spending by the 2011 debt deal, the Budget Control Act (PL 112-25). A recent Congressional Budget Office analysis found the CR spending would amount to an $8 billion increase, or less than one percent, over FY2012 spending. But it likely won’t translate into more dollars for agencies. As happens routinely with emergency spending laws, the Office of Management and Budget will issue instructions to agencies on how to ration, or apportion, the funds for the first half of FY2013. “Because of the nature of CRs, you should operate at a minimal level until after your regular appropriation is enacted,” OMB has said in its past guidance. Agency officials likely will be even more cautious than usual, due to the uncertainties regarding the sequester that is scheduled to take effect on January 2, 2013.

Also this week the White House is expected to release a detailed report on the effect of the sequester, the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts set to occur in January. Under the transparency law, the report must provide an estimate of the percentages and dollar amounts that would be cut from every discretionary and mandatory spending account at the program, project, and activity levels, as well as a list of accounts that are exempt from cuts. Social Security, Medicaid, and funding for military personnel are among the programs that are exempt. Congressional members hope to use the report’s details on the cuts to make the case during the lame duck session for averting those cuts. The Office of Federal Relations will post detailed information on the report and also plan to disseminate a Federal Update email to the campus community by early next week.

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