Congress votes to prevent federal shutdown at start of fiscal year

After much haggling, the House voted 370-1 Thursday night to pass a continuing resolution extending government operations through Oct. 4. The Senate followed suit late Thursday, approving the CR by unanimous consent before recessing for the weekend.

However, what was supposed to be a simple process nearly fell apart over the past two days, as lawmakers argued over theoretical funding levels in the CR and language that would force the White House to back out of certain spending commitments made in fiscal 2002.

A colloquy between House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, and Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., publicly quelled concerns over the short-term CR, at least for now. Still, the anxieties caused by this four-day CR are likely to spill over into the next short-term CR, as well as any long-term CR, while lawmakers struggle to keep overall spending under the targets laid out in Nussle's budget resolution and President Bush's budget.

In comments on the floor Thursday, Nussle asked for assurances from Young that the level of the CR, if annualized, would not exceed the spending limits laid out in the budget resolution once the 2003 Defense and Military Construction bills are completed.

As written, the CR carries over all 2002 funds-including supplemental spending-into 2003, as well as an additional $8 billion for a Defense Department Medicare fix. According to Nussle, that takes the annualized cost of the CR to $744 billion in budget authority, still below the $749 billion baseline set in the House budget resolution-if a $10 billion contingency fund for Defense is discounted.

But once the regular Defense and Military Construction bills are passed, the annualized rate of the CR will exceed budget targets by $8.2 billion, Nussle said.

Young responded that he fully expected the White House to take advantage of its authority under current law to negate one-time funding. He indicated the administration has already said it will back out of some $16 billion-enough to bring the annualized cost of the CR below the $749 billion baseline.

That explanation seemed to placate Nussle for the time being, although the argument could resurface as the House prepares to pass another short-term CR next week to extend government programs through Oct. 11. Nussle declined to say last night whether he would seek additional language in the next CR to assure that the baseline is not exceeded.

House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., said it was "ironic" that Nussle was the man responsible for tying up the CR over the past several days.

"It has been the unreal budget resolution-that is at the root of the problem to begin with," said Obey, referring to the current stalemate on appropriations bills that has kept any of the 2003 bills from being enacted so far.

Nussle said the Senate's failure to pass a budget resolution has bottled up the appropriations process-but Obey said that was a "red herring," because the House has still passed only five appropriations bills.