Where Are We Now – Budget Prospects Look Dim

With the end of the current fiscal year rapidly approaching, what many Washington watchers have long predicted appears to be true – Congress will not act on next year’s budget by the Oct. 1 deadline.

“But wait,” you’re saying, “October is a long way from now. How can you be sure?”

The numbers tell the story.

If you look at the congressional calendar you can find out when the House or Senate plan to be in session, known as “legislative days.” These are days on which official business happens. Legislative days can be added at any time, but here's what we know right now:

Congress is about to go on its Fourth of July break. When lawmakers return, the Senate will have just 35 legislative days left before Oct. 1. The House will have only 24 days.




And they haven’t gotten much accomplished yet. The first step of Congress’s annual budget process is the passage of a budget resolution, which sets overall spending guidelines that form the blueprint for the remainder of the year’s budget work. The House passed its FY2013 budget resolution back in March. The Senate failed to pass a resolution for the third straight year.

Both the House and Senate then have to enact 12 appropriations bills which provide the actual funding for federal agencies and programs. Then they have to iron out the differences between the two versions of these 12 bills, and then they have to send them to the president to be signed into law. As of now, the House has passed only five of the 12. The Senate has passed zero.

But even if both the House and Senate were moving ahead with their various spending bills, it might not matter. President Obama has indicated he’ll veto any appropriations bill that reflects the spending levels included in the House budget resolution. Here’s why.

Last August Congress enacted the Budget Control Act (BCA), which sets out annual spending levels for fiscal years 2013 and 2014 as part of its deficit reduction plan. The White House has said that the president will veto any spending bill that doesn’t abide by these caps. The House’s spending bills, based on its budget resolution, are using different numbers, which are generally lower than those set out in the BCA.

“But wait,” you’re saying, “If the House numbers are lower, and you’re trying to cut the deficit, isn’t that a good thing?”

The White House doesn’t think so. In a statement the administration expressed its view that the House funding plan “would cost jobs and hurt average Americans, especially seniors, veterans, and children. The funding level would also degrade many of the basic Government services on which the American people rely.”

All in all, given the political stalemate in Washington, the short amount of time Congress has left is probably not enough.

“So what does that all mean?” you ask.

Two phrases to watch for – “continuing resolution” and “lame duck session.” Stay tuned.