Congress Passes a 5-Week Stop-Gap Funding Measure as Partisan Disagreement Continues to Block Action on Annual Appropriations
By Larry Jones
October 21, 2002
In view of deep partisan disagreement over spending issues and with members growing increasingly anxious about leaving Washington so they can hit the campaign trail, Congress abandoned hope last week of passing most of the 13 regular annual appropriations bills before the November 5 mid-term elections. Three weeks into the new fiscal year, which began October 1, the House and Senate have approved only two of the annual spending measures (defense and military construction). To keep other areas operating, Congress passed a continuing resolution on October 16 that will fund most federal agencies and programs at their fiscal year 2002 spending levels until November 22.
This temporary funding arrangement allows members to postpone until after the elections difficult spending decisions that may have political implication and affect the outcome of a few key elections which could determine the leadership in both houses. Following the elections members will return to Washington November 12-14 for a lame duck session and try once again to complete action on the remaining spending bills.
The biggest stumbling block for moving the annual spending bills is the disagreement between the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress over the total amount that should be spent on domestic discretionary programs in fiscal year 2003. The White House wants to hold the line on spending to $760 billion while Democrats in Congress are pushing for $772 billion, an additional $12 billion. While Republican leaders in Congress are committed to the White House budget, the division over spending in the Republican ranks has made it very difficult for the House to move a few appropriations bills out of committee, particularly those bills that fund education, job training, labor, justice and law enforcement programs.
Because this is an election year, some moderate Republicans in both houses have sided with Democrats in supporting increases that exceed the President's limits, as some are in tight races and are hoping to win support by pushing for increases for programs that are popular back in their home states. Some have even challenged Republican leaders to allow a vote on the bills that fund education, job training and law enforcement but so far they have refused amid speculation that they do not have the votes to pass such legislation in committee or on the House floor. Although the White House has remained firm in insisting that Congress pass appropriations bills in line with the President's budget limits, some members believe he will be more willing to compromise after the elections.included Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth L. Barr, Chair of the Conference of Mayors Transportation and Communications Committee, Charlotte Mayor Patrick McCrory, Chair of the Environment Committee, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, Chair of the Travel and Tourism Task Force, and Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson.