Congress Focuses on Continuing Resolution, Heading Home

September 14, 2012 Bookmark and Share

Members of Congress arrived in Washington this week ready to undertake their most basic work – funding the government – and then head back home.

Legislators in both chambers are focused on a six-month continuing resolution (CR), which was approved by the House Thursday evening on a 321 to 91 vote. The Senate is scheduled to take up the measure next week.

The short-term funding bill was pre-negotiated to be approved well before the end of the federal government’s fiscal year, which should avoid the last-minute nail biting of past efforts to continue or reauthorize federal funding.

The overall bill increases spending by $8 billion, to $1.047 trillion, the Republican concession to get a CR deal. In turn, Democrats agreed to let the measure run until March 2013, two months into the next Congress and presidential administration.

Most programs are maintained at existing funding levels, though some saw cuts.

For instance, agriculture conservation programs were hard hit, with the bill mandating no new enrollments in the Conservation Security Program (CSP); cutting $350 million from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), $50 million from the Farmland Protection Program and $35 million from the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP); and ending spending authority after Sept. 30 for the Wetland Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program and the Chesapeake Bay Regional Conservation Program.

Approval of a six-month CR will give federal agencies a small measure of budgetary certainty for the coming year, but that is far outweighed by the looming threats of deep sequestration cuts in January and a wholly unknown budget for the second half of the fiscal year.

The Obama Administration released a report late Friday outlining how sequestration would affect agency spending. A quick review of that showed USDA programs would be cut between 7.6 and 8.2 percent.

The CR does not address either part of the so-called “fiscal cliff,” the sequestration cuts mandated by law as part of last year’s attempted debt-deficit reduction efforts or tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year.

Congress is scheduled to be in session by late next Wednesday after an extended weekend for a Jewish holiday. However, it is unlikely either fiscal cliff issue will be addressed, if at all, until a lame duck session following the November elections.

The full CR language is at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112hjres117ih/pdf/BILLS-112hjres117ih.pdf.

The full sequester report language is at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/assets/legislative_reports/stareport.pdf.