Wednesday, November 17, 2010

DHS Spending Bill

I got an interesting email from an reader yesterday. He asked about the status of the DHS appropriations bill, S 3607. He had noticed that according to the Legislative Status page here on the blog site that the bill had been reported out of committee in the Senate.

S 3607 in Senate

The Senate bill has been on the Senate Legislative Calendar since July 19th. Because of constitutional issues it will stay there until the House passes their bill; the House must initiate all spending bills. Once the House bill is sent to the Senate the language in S 3607 will be substituted for the House language as one of the first amendments considered on the House bill.

Typically we would expect to see a variety of floor amendments offered for the spending bill as it is debated in the Senate. Once it is passed it will go back to the House. If the House agrees to the amended version of the bill, then it goes to the President for signature. Typically the House disagrees with the amendments and the bill goes to Conference where the differences between the two versions will be worked out. The re-amended bill goes back to both the Senate and House for votes.

Since the control of money is an important tool for Congress to control the Executive Branch this can be a complicated and time consuming process. In the normal course of events the Senate could take days to debate an appropriations bill.

House Bill

There has not been any action on appropriations bills in the House since July. Only two Department bills have been introduced, Military/Veterans and Transportation/HUD. The Homeland Security Sub-Committee has passed a draft bill, but it has not been taken up by the full House Appropriations Committee. It won’t be officially introduced until the Committee has passed and ordered the bill to be reported.

As of last night, there are no hearings scheduled in the House Appropriations Committee. The way the House Rules are currently organized, nothing can happen on the Appropriations bill until Chairman Obey calls a Committee Meeting to mark-up the draft bill. There are ten appropriations bills in essentially the same status.

Once reported by the Appropriations Committee the bill would then go to the House Rules Committee for the formation of a rule to regulate the floor debate on the bill. The Resolution coming out of that hearing would provide a list of the allowed amendments that would be debated and voted upon during the floor debate. This process usually takes three days, but it can be greatly abbreviated if the Leadership wants.

The House debate on an appropriations bill would normally take the major part of a day. There would be about a dozen or so amendments that would be debated and voted upon. If the minority party (this year the Republicans) wanted to slow up the debate with procedural issues, the debate could take two or even three days before the final vote on the bill occurred.

December 3rd Deadline

The Federal Government has been without a budget since the start of the Fiscal Year on October 1st. They have been operating under a Continuing Resolution, a stop-gap measure that continues the FY 2010 funding for a short period of time while the Congress works out the budget process. The current Continuing Resolution expires on December 3rd. If nothing is done by that point, the government officially shuts down.

Next week the Congress is scheduled to start their Thanksgiving Recess. This would be expected to start when they adjourn on Friday and typically they wouldn’t come back to work until Tuesday, November 30th. This would leave three days for the process described above to be completed on 12 spending bills. That simply is not going to happen.

Another Continuing Resolution

The Military/Veterans appropriations bill (HR 5822/S 3615) will probably be considered and passed by the Senate and may get through the remainder of the process before the December 3rd deadline. To avoid shutting down the remainder of the government, there will be another house bill that will be converted to the next continuing resolution in the Senate. What will be interesting to see is what date is set for the termination of that resolution.

If the leadership thinks that they will be able to get some of their spending plans approved the continuing resolution will terminate sometime late in December. Given the Christmas holidays a date of the 17th would be a reasonable date though a date of the 30th is possible though it would only add a couple of real legislative days to the process. We would probably see another Omnibus Spending Bill come out of this, though a separate DHS bill could still possible.

If the leadership doesn’t think that they will be able to get the spending they want through the process (think passage in the Senate), then they could always punt the problem to next year’s Demopublican Congress; putting an end date of some time after January 5th. This may be especially true for Speaker Pelosi. She has complained on a number of occasions about the inability of the Senate to confirm the hard work done in the House. She might calculate that dumping the spending bill problem on the Republican controlled House would improve her chances of regaining the Speakership in two years.

BTW: Any continuing resolution would almost certainly contain specific language extending the authority for the CFATS program that also expires with the current continuing resolution. An extension until October of 2011 would be included in any DHS budget bill.

In any case, the 111th Congress is going to continue to be interesting to watch, right to the bloody end.

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