2013 Budget Moves Forward, but Stalemate Looms over Top-Line Spending Amounts

by Rebecca Farley on April 27, 2012

The 2013 budget advanced in both the House and Senate this month, as the Appropriations Committees approved annual spending measures for several agencies. But the two chambers’ stark disagreement on overall discretionary spending limits could set the stage for another potential government shutdown if lawmakers are unable to strike a deal on the 2013 budget before the fiscal year begins October 1.

The House Appropriations Committee this week allocated committee-by-committee spending levels in line with the overall limit of $1.028 trillion already approved by the House. This number is substantially less than that approved by Senate appropriators, who set a top-line amount of $1.047 trillion. The Senate number corresponds with the 2013 spending caps set by the Budget Control Act, a deal struck by Congress last August that increased the U.S. debt ceiling while putting in place short- and long-term measures to reduce the deficit.

The House committee plan, which was approved on a party-line vote, does not uniformly cut federal programs. It includes an $8 billion increase for defense programs, which translates to $27 billion in cuts for all other appropriations. The Committee’s target for spending under the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services is $150 billion, or $8.7 billion less than President Obama’s 2013 budget request. The Office of Management and Budget last week sent a letter to the Committee warning that the President will not sign any appropriations bills that do not accord with the $1.047 Budget Control Act deal.

The major differences between the House and Senate spending bills clearly stake out their ground for negotiations, but it is unclear whether and how they will be able to reach a compromise on 2013 spending. Most Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee sided with Democrats in voting for the $1.047 trillion top-line figure, complicating the House’s negotiating position with its $1.028 trillion amount. Before any negotiations can take place, however, lawmakers must move forward with their votes on each of the 12 annual spending bills. The full House is expected to vote on the Commerce-Justice-Science and Energy-Water bills by the end of this month. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved four of its spending bills. Lawmakers will be in recess next week and will resume business the week of May 7.

This is the third article in this week’s series on the 2013 budget. Click to read our Editor’s Note from Rebecca Farley, along with our coverage of  Congress’ efforts to avoid sequestration and ongoing threats to the Prevention and Public Health Fund.

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