Thursday, September 22, 2011

Incremental Steps Forward

The mass media may have been abuzz over the recent setback when the House failed to consider a temporary continuing resolution for the federal government's spending (for example, the Los Angeles Times reported "House rejects government funding bill as shutdown looms"). Reality hasn't yet been quite so dire. Consider the following bits that have taken place on Capitol Hill in the past few days:

1. A short-term extension of SAFETEA-LU was signed into law on Sept. 16. It sustains most federal highway and transit spending authority at current levels through March 31, 2012. Note that this is an authorization, not an appropriation. Federal funding for transit and highway projects are dependent on the annual appropriations bills.

2. The Senate Appropriations Committee just approved its version of a FY 2012 Transportation-HUD spending bill that would fund most federal transit programs at close to their FY 2011 levels. This is in contrast to the transportation spending bill that moved through the House Appropriations Committee earlier this month, in which most federal transit and highway spending would be cut by more than 30 percent.

3. The House has just passed a short-term extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which would sustain its spending authority at current levels through December 31, 2011.

4. The Senate Appropriations Committee also has cleared its version of a FY 2012 Labor/Health & Human Services/Education appropriations bill. Other spending bills also are advancing, albeit in fits and starts, through the House and Senate Appropriations committees.

With respect to the annual appropriations for the upcoming fiscal year, the overwhelming assumption is that they will be folded into some form of an omnibus appropriations act, which has become the more common way Congress has handled its control of federal purse-strings in recent years, but the tendency is to base these catch-all bills on whatever has been done to date with individual bills, so the farther along they are, the greater sense we would have of what to expect.

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