Federal Relations

And We’re Back… To Fiscal Issues

What a difference a couple of days makes here in the nation’s capitol. On Monday, President Obama and Congress were still projecting a vote to take military action in Syria. But this morning it appears that the pause button has been pushed on that topic and lawmakers are once again turning to fiscal issues.

Late yesterday, House Republican leadership proposed a $986.3 billion short-term, stopgap spending bill (H J Res 59) that would fund federal government into FY14 at current funding levels. The proposed continuing resolution (CR) would avoid a government shut down as we quickly approach the end of the fiscal year on September 30th and would fund government through December 15th – giving lawmakers plenty of time to come to an agreement on how best to fund government for FY14.

The CR contains a handful of provisions to allow limited funding flexibility for some agencies. For example, the Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies would be able to maintain current staffing levels to ensure border security operations and immigration activities continue. The CR also allows some additional funding for the Department of Interior and the Forest Service for wildfire suppression efforts, the Veterans Benefits Administration for disability claims processing, and some flexibility for federal weather satellite programs.

But it is not yet clear as to when the House will vote on the proposed CR. The House Republican caucus is divided over leaders’ plan to pair the CR with a separate resolution withdrawing funding for implementation of the Affordable Care Act in fiscal 2014. But House conservatives are not happy with the plan that they say would create yet another symbolic vote against the health care law while allowing implementation to move forward. Conservatives want the CR to block all health overhaul funding and some have also called for adding a provision banning lawmakers and staff from receiving government contributions towards their health care premiums.

Using the fiscal 2013 spending level of about $988 billion would mark a compromise, as some House conservatives want to see spending in the CR set to the $967 billion level dictated for fiscal 2014 by the Budget Control Act (PL 112-25). Senate Democrats say they are ready to move forward with a plan that runs into December, even if it is based on a simple extension of spending at the annual level used in FY13.

Meanwhile, the Bipartisan Policy Center announced yesterday that the federal government could default as early as October 18th. This matches the administration’s projection. President Barack Obama has asked Congress to raise the debt limit without any conditions and ruled out any negotiations over it after a protracted debt limit fight two years ago.