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CONGRESS DELAYS ACTION ON BUDGET RESOLUTION: Will Take It Up in June, but Expects to Postpone Final Spending Decisions Until Early Next Year

“Do we want to work things out, or do we just want to wait until the next president will act like an adult? We won’t waste time if the president intends to stick by his budget.”

On May 20, House and Senate leaders announced a compromise on the Fiscal Year 2009 Congressional budget resolution, but a final vote on the measure was delayed because of a procedural problem. Congress is now expected to vote on the budget resolution when it returns from the Memorial Day recess in early June.

The Congressional budget resolution, a nonbinding spending blueprint that does not require presidential approval, sets monetary limits for the spending and tax legislation that Congress will consider for the rest of the year. Only the grand total of the discretionary spending laid out in the final budget resolution is binding on the appropriations committees. However, the Congressional budget resolution can provide guidance to the chairmen of the appropriations committees on how to divide resources among various federal departments and agencies, and it often sets the stage for the twelve annual appropriations bills that must be passed by Congress and signed by the president.

The budget resolution that Congress will consider in June would permit $24.5 billion more in discretionary spending than President Bush proposed in the budget he released in February. It recommends $84.4 billion in discretionary funding for education, job training, and other programs, an amount that is $8.4 billion over the president’s request.

“This conference agreement charts a new direction,” said House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-SC). “It provides tax cuts for middle income families and supports investments in new businesses that will create jobs. The budget invests in our crumbling infrastructure and funds the educational tools needed to help our children succeed in the global economy, all while returning the budget to balance. This is a balanced budget with balanced priorities.”

Jim Nussle, director of the Office of Management and Budget, which assists the president in overseeing the preparation of the federal budget, criticized the budget resolution for raising taxes and increasing spending. “The Congressional budget is the same old tax and spend blueprint that we objected to at its inception,” he said. “The president took a principled stand for fiscal responsibility and has communicated clearly that spending beyond his reasonable and responsible levels will be met with a veto.”

A similar dispute emerged last year when Congress agreed to a budget resolution that sought to spend $23 billion over the president’s proposal. At the time, President Bush pledged to veto any appropriations bill that exceeded the amount he had requested in his budget. In November, Bush held true to his word, vetoing a Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill that would have provided nearly $10 billion more in discretionary spending than he had requested in his budget, including $4.7 billion for the U.S. Department of Education. Unable to garner enough votes to override the president’s veto, Democrats were forced to combine the eleven appropriations bills that had not been passed into one omnibus bill that kept discretionary funding on par with the president’s spending target. Nevertheless, Congressional Democrats were able to move money around to fund key priorities, including a $2 billion increase for the U.S. Department of Education, while staying within the president’s overall spending limit.

This year, rather than go through months of partisan wrangling, veto threats, and veto override attempts that marked 2007, Democrats appear content to delay any decisions on the annual appropriations bills until early next year, when a new president occupies the White House. This will likely be accomplished by passing a continuing resolution that keeps the governmental agencies operating at current spending levels until bills are voted on in early 2009.

As Representative David Obey (D-WI), Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in February, “Do we want to work things out, or do we just want to wait until the next president will act like an adult? We won’t waste time if the president intends to stick by his budget.”

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