September 19, 2014

Better Late Than Never: Congress Closes In On 2014 Spending Bill

  • The federal budget is an expression of our country's values. Where we choose to spend and at what levels, how and who we tax, and the borrowing we...

Lawmakers hope to finally finish work this week on a $1.012 trillion spending package for Fiscal 2014, which is already three and a half months old. After a number of policy disputes were worked out last weekend, House and Senate appropriators last night said they had reached agreement on the package, which is roughly split between defense and non-defense programs.

A stop-gap spending measure is set to expire Wednesday. With little appetite on Capitol Hill for another government shutdown, however, Congress plans to quickly give itself a few more days to get the final spending legislation passed.

Late last year Congress reached a budget deal for Fiscal 2014 that set the total amount of “discretionary spending,” which lawmakers approve on an annual basis. Since then they have been filling in the details for all 12 of the regular appropriations bills, rolling them together into a single “omnibus.”

This massive bill will cover nearly a third of all federal spending projected for Fiscal 2014; the rest of the budget covers “non-discretionary spending” programs like Social Security and Medicare. In addition, the government essentially spends hundreds of billions of dollars through the tax code every year.

While the package announced last night preserves some policy riders favored by Republicans, it also maintains funding for the Affordable Care Act, a Democratic priority.

Lawmakers’ failure to approve the 12 regular spending bills before the fiscal year began Oct. 1 has wasted tax dollars by crippling the ability of federal agencies and departments to make effective plans. In addition, doing all of the necessary appropriations work in a matter of weeks means elected officials will have little time to consider the omnibus package before voting on it.

That’s why lawmakers should commit themselves to a more orderly budget process in the coming year. In addition, Congress must still approve an unavoidable increase in the federal debt limit, which has been suspended until Feb. 7.