Spending bill could see vote next week

A giant $1.047 trillion spending package finishing off fiscal 2013 could come to the House floor as soon as next week, if House leaders give it a green light.

Leaders will have to factor in talks on the looming "fiscal cliff" and two conservative demands — that final spending action be postponed into the new Congress and that discretionary spending be cut by some $19 billion more from the top-line level appropriators are using. 

The federal government is operating on a stopgap measure that runs out in March. 

Appropriators want to replace this, and argue that if the $109 billion sequester cuts come in January — should Congress fail to get a deal — it is better to cut from a prioritized, detailed omnibus spending package than from the stopgap measure, which left agencies on autopilot. 

The omnibus appropriations package is being negotiated by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Innouye (D-Hawaii) at the level specified in the August 2011 debt deal.

Rogers told The Hill Friday that four or five of the 12 component bills are completely done, including that covering defense.

All of the top-line spending numbers for each bill have been agreed upon, he said. He would not say whether the larger House or Senate number for defense will be used. 

“We’re making good progress. We have a ways to go yet,” Rogers said. “Whether or not there is going to be time on the floor, or we can muster enough interest in passing an omnibus to replace the [continuing resolution] remains to be seen.”

Rogers said he is not going to do a whip count yet on the giant spending bill because he wants negotiations with the Senate to be finished first.

“I want a product I can sell first,” he said. 

The most troublesome titles, such as that for Labor and Health and the State Department could end up as simple extensions of current policy, he said. 

Rogers said that an omnibus could be passed before or after a fiscal cliff bill. An aide said that if the fiscal deal cut into 2013 discretionary spending, that across-the-board reduction is better applied to an omnibus than to the existing continuing resolution.

Rogers is waiting for the Obama administration to request a supplemental spending bill to pay for Superstorm Sandy damage. He said he expects two bills will be necessary, with a larger one coming in the spring rather than the lame duck. He expects the first will at least appropriate $5 billion allowed for disaster relief under the Budget Control Act. Northeast lawmakers are seeking some $80 billion in funds to pay for the storm.

The chairman said he does not know whether the Sandy bill would be combined with an omnibus, or if disaster aid would need to be offset with spending cuts elsewhere.

"We'll have to discuss that later," he said. 

If no omnibus passes in the lame duck, the Appropriations committees could have to start from scratch on fiscal 2013 spending in January with a view to a deal by the end of March. Failure to reach a deal could add a shutdown crisis to the calendar along with a possible fight over the debt ceiling in the spring, unless a debt ceiling increase is also passed in the lame duck.