• The Return to Regular Order?
  • June 2, 2014
  • Law Firm: McDonald Hopkins LLC - Cleveland Office
  • Just a few months ago, after the passage of the two-year budget act, there was a great deal of talk on the Hill about a return to “regular order” regarding the appropriations process. More and more, however, members and staff on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress are beginning to talk about the possibility of a continuing resolution - en lieu of finishing the appropriations process.

    The two-year budget deal approved in December laid out the broad parameters, and the Appropriations committees in both the House and Senate are now tasked with filling in the fine print in the form of twelve separate appropriations bills. Unfortunately, to date, only two of those bills have passed the House and none have passed in the Senate. What is even more concerning is that time is running short.

    After the Memorial Day break, there are only about 30 legislative days left on the calendar before the August recess. And when lawmakers return after Labor Day, they will already be looking toward adjournment on Oct. 2 for the last month of campaigning before the Nov. 4 elections.

    Both chambers and parties are already starting to gauge whether their positioning on budget issues would be strengthened or weakened if the bulk of the spending bills are left for a lame-duck session of Congress. That would mean that a two- or three-month CR would be needed before Oct. 1 to fund agencies not covered in already-passed spending bills.

    There is some progress to report in the appropriations process. The House has completed and passed its versions of a 2015 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs spending bill as well as a Legislative Branch spending bill. Those are the two appropriations bills typically regarded as the least controversial or politically charged.

    In addition, the House passed the 2015 Commerce, Justice, and Science spending bill, and early Friday morning. The Appropriations committee also approved the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development funding bill, as well as the Agriculture funding bill and the Department of Homeland Security funding bill.

    Over in the Senate, progress is even slower.

    Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its 2015 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs spending bill and its Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration bill.

    Senior House and Senate aides concede it is more likely than not that neither the Senate nor the House completes all 12 bills before the start of the new fiscal year - and certainly not reach two-chamber agreements on them - as tough battles and tough election-year choices could loom on specific spending cuts and other policy matters.

    Fights are expected to erupt over a variety of matters, including transportation spending, health care programs, and education issues.

    Lawmakers will in the next weeks almost all voice preferences to maintain the regular order, or process, of completing all 12 spending bills individually, members and senior aides predict. But the reality, they say, is there will ultimately be an acknowledgement this summer that not all can get done by Oct. 1.