Congressional Polar Vortex
Early January, and it’s a balmy 7°F in Washington, D.C., or -10°F with the wind chill. The polar vortex gripping the nation is a good analogy for the continued icy relations on Capitol Hill.
It seems that despite a bipartisan agreement on the federal budget reached just before the end of 2013, the “least productive” Congress in 60 years is much more likely to end with a whimper than a bang when it adjourns sine die later this year.
The never-ending budget saga and continuous “cliffs” that Congress seems determined to dive over are still very much with us. As readers of this column will recall, a bitter clash in the fall of 2013 that pitted President Obama and Congressional Democrats against Congressional Republicans led to the first partial government shutdown since 1995. The compromise that ended it was a three-month continuing resolution to keep the government open through Jan. 15, 2014, and to compensate federal workers who had been sent home. The agreement also included a debt-ceiling increase until at least mid-February to postpone a fight over the borrowing limit until after appropriations for the year were resolved, and the formation of a bicameral, bipartisan budget committee with a deadline of Dec. 13, 2013.
After weeks of negotiations, Budget Committee Chairs Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced a two-year budget agreement, which passed Congress right before Christmas. The agreement provided a new discretionary spending cap of $1.012 trillion for fiscal year (FY) 2014, which roughly split the difference between the earlier House and Senate figures and allocates $520.5 billion for defense activities and $491.5 billion for non-defense programs. It also scaled back the scope of automatic sequester cuts mandated by the 2011 debt-limit law by a total of $63 billion over two years. The total top-line spending level agreed to for FY 2015 is $1.014 trillion.
While most of the media focuses on the broken budget process, the real fight on Capitol Hill is about appropriations. Once the top-line level is agreed to, Congress must pass 12 appropriations bills that fund specific agencies and programs. Since the budget agreement passed just before Christmas, the appropriators have been working on an omnibus spending package and, as of the writing of this column, have reached agreement on eight of the 12 spending bills. The remaining bills are expected to be dealt with in the coming weeks, but another short-term continuing resolution may be needed.
The bottom line is that it appears we will have a FY 2014 budget with eight months still to go in the fiscal year and perhaps even a chance at regular order on appropriations bills for FY 2015. However, the debt-ceiling issue will raise its ugly head again by late February … and it’s an election year, folks. So, buckle your seat belts: We may be going nowhere fast, but the ride will still be very bumpy.
Despite the continued partisan bickering in Washington, the Forging Industry Association (FIA) and its members continue to educate members of Congress on key issues of concern to forgers, including comprehensive tax reform, adequate supplies of affordable energy and overly burdensome regulations.
One major event designed to provide FIA members with the opportunity for dialogue with members of Congress is FIA’s annual Lobby Day, which is scheduled for April 2-3. FIA members are welcome to attend. Contact Roy Hardy at FIA for more information. We’ll provide an update on the event in our next issue (April).
Laurin M. Baker, Founder & President • The Laurin Baker Group, LLC. Washington, D.C. • FIA Washington Representatives
202-393-8525 • firstname.lastname@example.org