Yesterday, the House passed the fiscal year 2014 omnibus (1,582 pages) appropriations bill, by a vote of 359 to 67. This came after the House passed a three-day continuing resolution to give the Senate time to consider the full bill. It now appears close to certain that the government will be funded without another shutdown until at least October 1.
Whenever the Congress passes such a massive bill, there is a chance of mischief. There are inevitably small details that are tucked away out of immediate view. Some of those have come to light already, but others might show up only after the bill has become law. The fraternity of people who can read appropriations language is fairly small, and they are in overload this week. So be prepared for news flashes several days or even weeks down the road.
A detailed summary of this large book would fill a medium-sized book. To generalize, however, it is best to start with the reality that a compromise that passes a politically divided Congress will be, well, a compromise. Each side will get some things and give some things. In the broadest terms, the Democrats got more money for domestic spending, and the Republicans (in addition to some relief for the Pentagon) got restrictions on how that domestic funding may be used.
President Obama submitted his fiscal year 2014 budget on April 10. Some have criticized the President on the ground that the budget was more than two months late. (The statutory deadline is the first Monday in February.) That criticism is fair enough – with the footnote that budget decisions for the preceding, ongoing fiscal year were well behind schedule as well, and in fact were not completed at the turn of the calendar year, when the ink of a President’s budget always has been both figuratively and literally drying. The budget law was written under the presumption that a President would know the budget outcomes for one fiscal year before he was required to prepare and submit the budget for the next.
There was a throwaway comment in the early press that “the President’s budget has virtually no chance of being adopted.” Well, no President’s budget ever is adopted; the Congress always makes changes (if it adopts meaningful budget legislation at all). A much more important test today is whether the President’s budget moves the current fiscal stalemate off of dead center (with the accent on the “dead”).
We will have a deeper account of the prospects for the politics and policymaking of the budget season next week. But the big-picture takeaway from the release of the budget is that this is the biggest and best opportunity to move the ball that anyone in Washington could have had a right to expect. It’s time, guys.