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First Glimpses of the Continuing Resolution Look Good For Many Programs That Had Feared the Worst

January 30, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

The Chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Commitees, Robert Byrd and David Obey, worked late last night tweaking funding levels in a year-long continuing resolution (CR) that they hope to present to the House on Wednesday. The previous Republican-led 109th Congress put the responsibility of funding most of the government in the hands of the current Congress when they failed to pass nine of eleven federal spending bills last year. Instead of functioning with normally appropriated funds, the government agencies covered in the unfinished spending bills have been funded under a series of continuing resolutions since October, when the current fiscal year began. The current CR expires on February 15th, so the very near future of many agencies is in the hands of Congress right now.

A continuing resolution normally funds agencies at the lowest of three levels: last year’s funding level, the current president-requested level, or the current Congress-approved level. The CR that will be presented on Wednesday will be a hybrid of a traditional spending bill with specifically allocated funds and an innovative continuing resolution that uses the lowest level as its base, but allows agencies to redirect funding to where they think it is most needed.

The spending bills originally stalled in the last Congress because of a difference between conservative Republicans, who supported President Bush’s request to decrease spending for domestic programs covered in the Labor-Education-HHS bill, and moderate Republicans, who wanted an increase in funding for these programs. Yesterday, a group of moderate House Republicans, including Michael Castle, Dave Reichert, Christopher Shays, and Charles Dent, wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Appropriations Chairman David Obey requesting that programs covered in the Labor-Education-HHS are funded at “no less than a 2 percent” increase above last year’s levels. The moderate Republicans’ letter requested the increases would specifically work to “boost current efforts for health research, educational priorities like math and science, the Centers for Disease Control, after-school care, vocational education, and the National Institutes of Health.”

From what has been reported this morning about the contents of the CR, it looks like the Democratic appropriators are in agreement with the moderate Republicans. Funding for Pell Grants for low-income college students, the National Institutes of Health, and health care for veterans and active-duty military are specifically appropriated in the bill and will see increases from last year’s levels. Other programs that would have been severely downsized under a normal lowest-of-three-levels CR, such as the FBI and Social Security Administration, will be designated to receive enough money to retain staff. Programs that don’t receive specifically allocated funds in the CR will be left to the jurisdiction of the Bush administration, under language in the CR that allows agencies to move money around as they see fit. This previous post discusses some potential results of this unusual budget practice.

Funding for many programs that have been fearing the worst is still unknown because the bill has not been made public yet. In anticipation of the writing of the CR, articles outlining the fears and needs of many programs appeared frequently in the past few weeks. Research funding for the Microchip industry is discussed here. The concerns of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District are outlined here. The future of agricultural research at MSU is the subject of this article. NASA’s funding in the CR is discussed here. This letter from the director of the National Science Foundation expresses their concerns about getting funding through the CR. Finally, this page explains the National Cancer Institute’s funding policy under their current uncertain status.

UPDATE: The AP got its hands on the bill and outlined more of its beneficiaries in this article.

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