If you're concerned about gridlock in Washington, get ready for more fireworks. May 15 marks the unofficial start of the annual appropriations process on Capitol Hill, where Congress begins putting together the spending bills that support many domestic federal programs and the Pentagon.
First, let’s take a couple of steps back. Each year, with the February release of the president’s budget request, the White House and Congress begin a Five-Step process that normally results in a federal budget. Step Two is the enactment of House and Senate budget resolutions which guide the remainder of the process.
Things were reversed this year, however, with the House and Senate acting on their respective budget resolutions in late March and the Obama Administration not releasing its budget request until mid-April.
Step Three is where the appropriations committees make funding decisions about specific federal programs based on the overall spending guidlines set out in the budget resolutions.
So that’s where we are, sort of. Truth is, at Step Three both the House and Senate should have passed identical budget resolutions, and would be working from the same set of numbers. But they haven’t, which means that they’re working from two different sets of numbers instead of working out their differences now. May 15 is the deadline after which appropriators can begin their work without a single budget resolution.
Which brings us to the idea of “regular order” – Washington-speak for “how things are supposed to work.” Under regular order, committees draft and pass legislation and the full House and Senate vote on it. Once they agree on a final identical version, they send it on to the president. [Although there are exceptions…]
In an effort to avoid the gridlock of last year’s budget process, members have been clamoring for a return to regular order. Last year was a disaster – none of the appropriations bills got through both the House and Senate under regular order.
Stay tuned as we guide you through whatever Congress orders up.