By Gina Luke, assistant director, Governmental Relations Division
Congress has played “kicked the can” before, but it is difficult to recall another time when so many important issues remain unfinished at a session’s end. Party leaders engage in the popular practice to avoid messy political fights and to spare their respective members from taking difficult votes ahead of an election.
Congress has been unable or unwilling to act when they have had ample time to conduct business. When it returns in September after a five-week recess, Congress will have just about 11 legislative days left before lawmakers again return home to campaign for reelection. With so little time to wrap up unfinished business, it is almost certain that most everything will be delayed until the lame duck session following the November elections or pushed off until 2013.
Because party leaders want to avoid the inevitable fight over fiscal year 2013 spending levels, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) issued statements on July 31 announcing an agreement to craft a six-month continuing resolution (CR) that would keep the federal government funded through March 31, 2013. Statements issued by Reid and Boehner say that the CR will abide by the $1.047 trillion discretionary spending cap established in the Budget Control Act (BCA, P.L. 112-25). The Republican majority in the House wanted a $1.028 trillion cap, which the chamber adopted in March 2012 as part of its budget resolution (H.Con.Res. 112). If both chambers approve the CR in September as expected, the final fiscal year 2013 funding levels for USDA programs could hinge on how House and Senate leaders reconcile the $19 billion gap between each chamber’s overall spending caps.
What follows the November elections is certain to be the “mother of all lame duck sessions.” Lawmakers will attempt to tackle a mountain of unfinished work including the Farm Bill reauthorization and deal with the $109 billion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take effect due to sequestration beginning on January 2, 2013.
Whatever work is not completed during the lame duck session will be punted to the 113th Congress which will pick up the ball at the end of January 2013. They will be faced with extending some or all of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, dispatching fiscal years 2013 and 2014 spending bills and implementing whatever deal is worked out with sequestration, just to name a few of the critical items on the agenda.
For more information please contact glukeavma [dot] org (Gina Luke), assistant director, AVMA Governmental Relations Division.