By Erik Wasson
Spending panel chiefs begin talks to avoid shutdown in January
The chairmen of the House and Senate appropriations committees on Thursday begin the next round of spending talks with the aim of avoiding a government shutdown in January.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and staffers headed over to the office of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) to start the negotiations.
The House is slated to vote Thursday on the budget deal reached by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and the bill is expected to pass with bipartisan support.
But that is just the first stage in finalizing spending for fiscal 2014, which began Oct. 1.
A giant omnibus spending bill covering all discretionary spending, from the Pentagon to education to medical research, must be passed by Jan. 15 to avoid a shutdown.
The bill is to be based on the $1.012 trillion spending allocation in the budget deal, but scores of issues are outstanding. Talks will have to wrap up over Christmas break to allow the House and Senate to pass the deal after the holiday recess ends on Jan. 7.
The first order of business will be dividing the $1 trillion dollar pie into 12 pieces. Known by the jargony term “302b allocations,” the outline will then allow detailed work on each of the 12 pieces of the omnibus.
“We are going to go talk about that now,” Rogers said when asked about the allocations.
It is not yet clear if the House will produce one list of allocations and the Senate will publish a separate list ahead of talks, or if they will just announce one list.
Legally, the allocations cannot be propounded until the Senate passes the budget deal, likely next week.
Appropriator Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said that appropriators have been working for some time in the Senate on their allocations based on different assumptions about what budget deal would look like.
After the outline is agreed to, Rogers and Mikulski and the subcommittee chairmen, known as cardinals, will have to agree to resolve hundreds of difference on spending allocation at department, agency and program levels.
This includes deciding key issues like whether ObamaCare or the Dodd-Frank financial law are adequately defunded. Given that ObamaCare defunding provoked a government shutdown in October, a battle might be less likely on this issue.
Then there will be the issue of riders.
House appropriators have sought to apply policy limitations on environmental, gun, health and financial regulations through the appropriations process. It remains unclear if this long list of riders is in play now.
“All the differences between the House and Senate bills will have to be resolved,” one aide noted.