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Lawmakers Offer Appropriations Directions, but Don't Call Them Earmarks

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Fattah is the ranking Democrat on the House Commerce-Justice-Science Approprations Subcommittee and is working to secure $13.9 million for a neuroscience initiative.

Appropriators who have been hamstrung by a moratorium on earmarks in Congress still have tools they can use to favor particular programs, and they are working against strong headwinds to make sure they can continue to use them this year.

Although lawmakers can no longer steer funds directly to specific companies or locations, appropriators still carry important influence in deciding which federal programs can be sheltered from cuts or even get a rare increase in an era of austere budgets. They also can attach to their bills orders to nudge agencies to pay more attention to specific programs that benefit appropriators’ constituents or pet causes.

The hitch is that such legislative tactics usually are available to appropriators only when they get new annual spending bills enacted. That’s proved a daunting task in recent years.

Just five new bills were included in the fiscal 2013 appropriations package (PL 113-6), with a long-term continuing resolution covering the seven unfinished annual spending bills. Appropriators will be challenged to do even this well again in a fiscal 2014 package, which may come in November if a larger agreement on the debt limit resolves a stalemate on an annual spending cap.

That’s why members of the minority party in both chambers have been helping write the fiscal 2014 bills, even as Democrats and Republicans remain deeply divided over the overall level of discretionary spending and the budget resolutions that set the broader spending parameters for appropriations bills.

Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania, the ranking Democrat on the House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee, said he hopes his panel’s measure (HR 2787) is included in a fiscal 2014 package, although he opposes the overall spending cap and even the spending level for his panel’s bill. Fattah means to secure $13.9 million for work done in connection with the White House’s new Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies initiative. The White House has credited Fattah with helping create this new initiative, which seeks to aid in the fight against conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

For Fattah, aiding neuroscience required cooperating on the House’s Commerce-Justice-Science bill, even while maintaining that the $47.4 billion bill does not do enough to stave off the impact of sequester cutbacks to discretionary spending.

“The arithmetic is different than what I would have arrived at,” Fattah said of the $91 billion cap between House and Senate plans for federal operating expenses in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. “But it’s very important that we move this bill from a policy standpoint.”

Fattah expects Democrats to prevail in a fight over the sequester ordered by the 2011 Budget Control Act (PL 112-25) and move the cap from the House-approved $967 billion to the original $1.058 trillion.

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