The continuing resolution that will come out of the Senate will almost certainly be a larger and more complicated measure than the stopgap funding measure the House coped with this week.
How far Democrats in the Senate hope to take the bill remains an open question, however, with lawmakers trying to balance concerns over the effects of the sequester on federal agencies and spending on major regulatory initiatives with the fundamental need to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year.
Conservatives in both chambers appear willing to include more appropriations bills in the Senate version of the fiscal 2013 spending package, as long as the $85 billion slice to the federal budget under the sequester is preserved. The fiscal 2013 measure (HR 933) that went through the House on Wednesday combines Defense and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bills with a stopgap CR for the rest of federal agencies, giving the military-related programs some ability to soften the blunt impact of the sequester.
The House’s bill effectively would cap fiscal 2013 spending at about $984 billion, a roughly $59 billion cut from the previous budget year’s spending, effectively entrenching the sequester for the current fiscal year.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., said he doesn’t object to adding other spending bills as long as the total cost of the package stays the same. “I’m more interested in the top-line number,” Mulvaney said.
The challenge in the days ahead will be to devise a Senate package that can do more than win the needed GOP support for passage. To advance, the measure also would need to be written in a way that doesn’t spark a Republican backlash. That makes some of the more controversial bills, such as the Financial Services and Labor-Health and Human Services-Education measures, less likely to be included in a continuing resolution that will pick up after the current stopgap funding plan expires March 27.
“It depends on the structure of it, but the important thing is the overall cap,” said Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a conservative freshman Republican with a long track record in the House of opposing spending measures.
Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a House GOP appropriator, endorsed this approach. “That’s fine,” Cole said. “We will negotiate it out, we’ll avoid a government shutdown.”
With the public blessing of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., has been trying to craft a package that would contain more spending bills than the two contained in the House bill.