By Kerry Young
The top House appropriator says his panel and the Senate Appropriations Committee have reached agreement on several spending bills for the 2013 fiscal year and that they're ready to be combined into a single package if Congress can find the time.
With accord on "four or five" of the bills in hand, House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., is persisting in efforts to get those plans passed and said work is continuing on the rest of the 12 appropriations bills that have been sitting on the sidelines in a gridlocked Congress.
"Others are closer. Some may be impossible," Rogers said Friday. "But we are making progress." Among those that the House and Senate panels agree on is the defense measure (HR 5856).
Several challenges remain to the completion of a fiscal 2013 appropriations package before the end of this session of Congress, however. First, Rogers and Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, need to see the outlines of whatever deal emerges on the fiscal cliff, a combination of expiring tax laws and slated automatic, across-the-board spending cuts.
A deal there might touch on discretionary spending, and so there would be little point in moving an appropriations package until decisions are made on the more pressing budget matter, Rogers said. The slated higher tax rates and automatic spending cuts will kick in in January unless Congress acts, but a six-month continuing resolution (PL 112-175) can keep federal agencies running through March 27 without an urgent need for new appropriations.
"The fiscal cliff light is attracting all of the moths, and all of the rest of us have to wait and see what may come out of those negotiations and what all it covers," Rogers said. "It could cover a lot more than what people are thinking right now, or a lot less."
The appropriations package itself would be controversial in House GOP ranks, making it a challenge in a month when Republican leaders may need to press members for support for a fiscal cliff deal.
The package that Rogers and Inouye are hammering out would use the spending cap of $1.047 trillion, which was set in last year's debt limit accord (PL 112-25). While key Senate Republicans -- including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. -- have stuck with that cap, House Republicans passed a budget resolution with a lower $1.028 trillion level, which would have been a cut from the previous budget year's $1.043 trillion level.
Many GOP House members, particularly members of the conservative Republican Study Committee, remain opposed to the higher cap on spending and also are adamantly against wrapping up appropriations during the lame-duck session.
Rogers said he has not started canvassing members for possible support for a December spending package.
"I want a product to sell before I start to sell it," he said.
If Congress fails to clear some or all of the fiscal 2013 appropriations bills before December, Rogers will start working next year to persuade leaders to finish this work with complete spending bills instead of merely putting in place another stopgap resolution.
Clearing appropriations in December might be a bit easier, as several senior appropriators involved in writing these measures will depart at the end of the year, including Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., the chairman of the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education panel, and Steven C. LaTourette of Ohio. Also departing is Norm Dicks of Washington, the ranking Democrat on House Appropriations, who has been a tireless advocate for getting appropriations measures completed closer to the start of new budget years.
Democrats have not yet named Dicks' successor as top Democrat on the committee. Nita M. Lowey of New York, who will be the No. 3 Democratic appropriator in terms of seniority, is challenging Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, who will be the most senior. Kaptur is more senior, but Lowey -- who has served as a subcommittee chairwoman, unlike Kaptur -- is considered to have the edge in the race.