With each passing day, lawmakers are under more pressure to pass a budget bill and avoid another continuing resolution. Congress is now leaning in the direction of an omnibus bill to pass all necessary spending before the Dec. 16 deadline, which is when the current CR runs out.
“I think we are close to having an omnibus bill that would fund government through the end of this current fiscal year,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris. The proposed omnibus funds agencies that were not included in the minibus Congress passed last month. That legislation funded the Agriculture, Commerce, Justice and science agencies; and the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. The omnibus being discussed now would fund the Defense Department and the remaining civilian agencies.
However, The Hill reports, the bills for “Labor and Health and Human Services, for Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency, and for Financial Services are so problematic that appropriators may simply punt on them.”
The House of Representatives has passed amendments to its versions of the bills, which tack on social policy riders that Cardin said threaten to derail the omnibus bill once it reaches conference committee.
“Quite frankly, that’s the issue right now,” Cardin said. “I think the funding levels have pretty much been agreed to. The priorities are pretty well resolved in the Senate. A lot of these issues were resolved when we negotiated the debt ceiling increase. The major problem appears to be these policy riders that have been added that shouldn’t be part of an omnibus bill. These are issues that should be handled in the normal legislative process.”
Cardin said he’s hopeful Congress can work out its differences by next week so that a stop-gap continuing resolution can be avoided.
“We hope that will not be necessary,” he said, “that we can do the omnibus appropriation so that the agencies have predictability through Sept. 30 of next year. We hope that’s the case, that’s what we’re working for, but the backup would be a CR if we fail in that regard.”
Beyond appropriations, Congress is still working out its differences over how to renew the payroll tax reduction. Cardin co-wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asking that a federal pay freeze or other federal employee concessions not be used to offset the tax extenders.
“Our federal workforce has already given with a two-year pay freeze,” Cardin said. “We don’t want to see any 11th-hour attacks on our federal workforce.”