Congress returns this week from a month-long recess.  One if its main challenges will finding time to complete the FY2012 appropriations process, while addressing broader budgetary issues, a continuing weak economy, disaster relief, and, other legislation.  With public and congressional attention likely to become more focused on the efforts of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (to come up with a plan to find an additional $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction by Thanksgiving) in the weeks ahead, congressional appropriators want to complete the FY2012 bills as soon as possible

Congress has less than a month to complete all twelve FY2012 appropriations bills before FY2012 begins.  While few believe that it can complete many, let alone all bills, by October 1, appropriations are guardedly optimistic they can avoid a repeat of last years’ over six-month budget gridlock, during which seven continuing resolutions were needed to keep the government operating.  Last month, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, has  said he intended to complete appropriations bills “as soon as possible” in order “to avoid the destabilizing effects caused by a delayed and drawn out Appropriations process.”

Much of the appropriators’ optimism is based on the fact that the Budget Control Act of 2011 (signed by the president in August) set FY2012 budget targets as part of an overall $1 trillion spending cut over 10 years.  This settled the issue of how the outcome of the debt ceiling/deficit reduction negotiations would affect FY2012 appropriations, most often cited as the reason the House and the Senate appropriators suspended action on appropriations bills.  

Appropriators now plan to press forward, even though some hard-line deficit hawks argue that Congress should fund agencies at levels lower than the Act’s FY2012 spending targets.  House Appropriations chair Rogers tried to mute this controversy by expressing his support for “the responsible 2012 spending level agreed to by the House, Senate, and the White House” under the debt ceiling agreement.

In any event, congressional appropriators face an arduous task in the coming weeks.  To date, only one (Military Construction/Veterans Affairs) of the 12 FY 2012 appropriations bills has been passed in both the House and the Senate, making it ready for conference. 

The full House has passed six of the twelve FY2012 appropriations bills (Agriculture, Defense, Energy & Water, Homeland Security, Legislative, and Military Construction/VA).  Three bills (Commerce/Justice/Science, Financial Services, and Interior & Environment) have been approved by the full Appropriations Committee and the remaining three bills (Labor/HHS/Education, State/Foreign Operations, and Transportation) have not yet been reported out of the full committee. 

In the Senate, eleven bills have not completed full committee action, but Senate Appropriations Committee chair Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) has indicated his intention to restart the process.  He has scheduled full committee markups this week for three bills:  Agriculture; Energy and Water; and Homeland Security.