Sept. 8, 2011 – 11:02 p.m.

Inaction Keeps Infighting On Appropriations at Bay

After savoring a return to traditional committee action and floor debate on spending bills, House appropriators appear to have concluded that it is time once again to set aside so-called regular order.

Three of the 12 appropriations bills for fiscal 2012 remain in limbo. House and Senate appropriators might have to be satisfied with working out unfinished details among themselves rather than sending the measures through committee markup and floor debate.

Time constraints are cited as the reason for not putting spending bills on the floor. But the decision also deprives conservatives of chances to foment intraparty rebellion against an August accord that Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, worked out with the White House and Senate Democrats.

The new debt limit law (PL 112-25) sets a discretionary spending cap higher than that adopted by the House in its 2012 budget resolution (H Con Res 34). The law permits $1.043 trillion in spending, compared with the resolution’s cap of $1.019 trillion.

A House Appropriations subcommittee postponed Friday’s scheduled markup of the always-contentious Labor-HHS-Education spending bill. Although the stated reason for the delay was a scheduling conflict, the markup has not been rescheduled.

Prospects also appear bleak for further committee or floor action on the Transportation-HUD spending bill, which was being marked up by its subcommittee on Thursday. In a break with the common Appropriations Committee practice of reserving action on amendments for full-committee markup, subcommittee members wee proposing changes during the evening markup. “This may be our only opportunity,” explained Norm Dicks of Washington, the top Democratic appropriator.

The third spending bill that has not reached full-committee markup, the State-Foreign Operations measure, has made no progress since a subcommittee markup in July. Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said he is uncertain whether any of those bills will get full-committee action.

GOP leaders might ask the House to vote on only two more fiscal 2012 spending measures, thus avoiding the simmering spending cap issue.

With no fiscal 2012 spending bills enacted, Congress will need to clear a stopgap spending measure before the fiscal year begins, on Oct. 1. The House plans to vote during the week of Sept. 19 on a continuing resolution to fund the government through November and give House and Senate appropriators time to assemble an omnibus appropriations package.

GOP leaders have made clear that they intend to honor the $1.043 trillion cap. To the dismay of some conservatives, that figure is only $7 billion below the current-year spending level.

Members of the House Republican Study Committee would prefer that the House use the lower spending cap set by the budget resolution adopted in April. Jeff Flake of Arizona, an RSC member, is collecting signatures on a letter asking GOP leaders to stick with the $1.019 trillion limit. Flake and one of the signers of his letter, Cynthia M. Lummis of Wyoming, serve on the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, the panel that postponed its Friday markup.