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Senators had a better chance than most rank-and-file House members to influence appropriations in the 112th Congress, despite more floor time given to spending bills in the House.
In both years of that Congress, House Republicans moved about half of the annual dozen spending bills under spending caps that reflected the desire of conservatives to cut spending. There was virtually no chance of getting Senate Democrats or the Obama administration to agree to these levels, making the House-passed versions of spending bills little more than political exercises.
After Congress reached accord on a fiscal 2012 cap on discretionary spending in August 2011, appropriators and leaders worked quickly to revive some semblance of the former regular order for handling spending bills in the Senate. The bills came to the floor in two packages in late 2011, some Senate amendments were added, and House and Senate appropriators went through a conference.
But House conservatives added dozens of amendments, many seeking to pare back federal agencies, to the seven fiscal 2012 bills that passed in their chamber before the August 2011 debt limit accord was reached. Few survived in the final bills, as House leaders and appropriators couldn’t count on support from conservatives for the spending packages on the floor.
This year, appropriators likely will wrap up fiscal 2013 appropriations with a six-month continuing resolution in March, a measure that almost certainly will be free of the sort of controversial amendments that were added to the House-passed bills last year.
Congress might escape its reliance on omnibus bills and CRs by having both chambers agree up front in their budget resolutions on spending levels, said former Rep. David R. Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat who served as House Appropriations chairman.
But the last time Congress did that was in 2009, when Democrats controlled both chambers and cleared a fiscal 2010 budget resolution. Six of the dozen annual spending bills were cleared that year as stand-alone measures, with the rest wrapped in an omnibus.
“If you don’t have a realistic starting point, then everything you do is screwed up,” Obey said.
Anne L. Kim contributed to this report.