Lawmakers Want Overall Budget Numbers Before Thanksgiving

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. Drew Angerer/AP File Photo

Top congressional appropriators are urging House and Senate budget conferees to agree by Dec. 2 on overall discretionary spending caps for fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2015.

Setting the spending caps for the current fiscal year and fiscal 2015 should be the conference committee’s “first priority,” said Kentucky Republican Hal Rogers and Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski, who lead the House and Senate appropriations panels respectively, in an Oct. 31 letter to top members of the group tasked with reaching a budget deal before mid-January.

“To accomplish our goal of funding the government for the rest of this fiscal year, we need a topline as soon as possible, and preferably by Thanksgiving,” said Mikulski in a statement. The letter asks conferees to come up with spending caps no later than Dec. 2, ideally by Nov. 22 -- the Friday before the Thanksgiving holiday.

The budget conference committee must submit its recommendations by Dec. 13; the current continuing resolution funding the government expires on Jan. 15, 2014. Appropriators are worried they won’t have time to agree on the 12 spending bills and send them to the president before the mid-January deadline, especially since the two chambers will be on recess for much of the time between Dec. 13 and Jan. 15. Mikulski and Rogers said they also want an overall spending cap for fiscal 2015 ahead of time to return to regular order and “avoid the situation we encountered this year” of having two different numbers dictating the appropriations process in the two chambers.

“The House and Senate should mark up and pass the 12 appropriations bills for the next fiscal year in a timely way, proceed to conference, send each of the individual bills to the president, and avoid yet another budget crisis or ‘shutdown showdown,’” the Rogers-Mikulski letter stated. The House has passed four individual spending bills: Defense, Energy and Water, Homeland Security, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. The full Senate has not yet voted on any fiscal 2014 appropriations bills.

The House and Senate budget conferees, led by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., are supposed to reconcile differences during the next month between the House and Senate fiscal 2014 budget plans -- currently about $91 billion apart. The lawmakers also are discussing how to deal with the next round of 10-year automatic spending cuts scheduled to begin kicking in on Jan. 15, 2014, when the current continuing resolution expires. The government will have to cut $109.3 billion from the budget under sequestration -- half from defense and half from non-defense programs -- in fiscal 2014 unless Congress agrees on an alternative.

The House-Senate budget conference committee is scheduled to meet again publicly on Wednesday, Nov. 13.

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