Spending bills stall; Congress goes 0-12

The laborious process of funding the government — one of Congress’s basic duties — has stalled, and it’s not expected to move until after November’s elections.

Lawmakers have yet to clear any of the dozen annual appropriations bills for fiscal 2011, and those in charge of crafting the measures say it’s unlikely President Obama will see one on his desk before Congress leaves Washington to campaign full-time.

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This is one of the slower years for appropriations on record. Congress typically finishes at least some of the spending bills before Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, though in 2007 none were cleared by that deadline.

In typical election-year fashion, each side is blaming the other for the lack of progress.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said Wednesday that none of the bills will be finished before Congress leaves — adding to the list of stalled legislation, including an energy bill and business investment tax credits proposed by the administration to boost the economy.

“What has not been done that needs to be done for this country?” said Dorgan, a senior appropriator who is retiring this year. “It is a very, very long list, unfortunately, and I would say the reason in most cases is because we have experienced in this Congress less cooperation and more determination to block almost anything than at any time I have seen in the 30 years I’ve served.”

“Here, there’s nothing that evades the political cauldron,” said Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), who plans to challenge Rep. Norm Dicks (Wash.) to be House Appropriations chairman, or ranking Democrat, next year. “The appropriations process, when it works in the way it was intended, it’s a nonpartisan activity. There are Democrats, Republicans and appropriators ... but there’s a lot of pressure on the minority.”

Republicans, however, say the issue is spending. With the 2010 deficit expected to approach $1.4 trillion, roughly the amount of last year’s record budget gap, GOP leaders have said that the failure to pass any bills showcases Democrats’ inability to govern.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has called on Congress to pass a spending bill before the election that sets future funding at 2008 levels.

“Let’s go back to 2008 levels, which are about 22 percent below the current rates, and let’s do the spending bill now, and show the American people that we can work together to cut spending and to keep the current tax rates in order,” Boehner said on CBS this week.

Lawmakers looking to advance the bills will have to resolve differences over spending levels and pass a continuing resolution that allows the government to continue operating past September without any of the regular spending measures signed into law.

Senate Republicans are insisting on a plan pushed by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) that caps the discretionary spending increase to roughly 1 percent over this year’s level. That would be $20 billion less than the spending levels requested by the White House and $14 billion less than those proposed by Democratic appropriators.

House Republicans are calling on Democrats to pass a “clean” continuing resolution and exclude spending provisions that the Obama administration hopes to attach. GOP appropriations staffers estimate those items to total about $25 billion and include money for the administration’s school reform programs and the implementation of Wall Street reform and healthcare laws.