With budget agreement nearly a done deal, focus turns to appropriations

Friday - 12/13/2013, 4:30pm EST

The bipartisan budget deal announced this week by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) goes a long way toward clearing up the widespread budget uncertainty that has plagued federal agencies for the last two years.

The agreement, which the House approved Thursday and the Senate appears likely to OK this week, cancels part of the across- the-board sequestration cuts scheduled to go into effect next year and provides a common top-line discretionary spending figure — $1.012 trillion.

But the agreement doesn't actually set individual agency funding for next year.

That's the job of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, the leaders of whom now must write an official spending bill that spells out exactly how much each agency gets to spend next year and on what.

In a normal year — all too rare in Washington these days — the committees each separately write 12 different appropriations bill that are then voted on by their respective chamber of Congress one at a time. Differences are sorted out in conference negotiations.

But with just a month until the current stopgap spending bill keeping the government open expires, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the chairman of the House committee, said Thursday he would begin work on an omnibus spending bill that contains all 12 bills wrapped into one.

In floor remarks shortly before the House voted to approve the budget agreement, he said he was eager to "get to work and make the hard, thoughtful, responsible, line-by-line funding decisions that are Congress' duty to make."

That's a sentiment shared by Rogers' Senate counterpart, Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.).

The bipartisan budget agreement "means we can fund the operations of government through regular, annual appropriations bills, instead of through last minute, stopgap bills that put the government on autopilot," she said in a statement when the deal was announced earlier in the week. "It also means creating certainty that's crucial to the stability of our economy and our standing and reputation in the world."

The painstaking appropriations process will be made a little easier this year because the budget agreement's topline spending number removes at least one choke point from the process. For much of the year, the House and Senate remained at odds over how to account for the across-the-board cuts, which left their competing spending plans some $91 billion apart and contributed, in part, to the 16-day shutdown in October .

Still, time is tight.

As it stands now, there are only a few days when both houses of Congress are in session between now and Jan. 15 — the date the current continuing resolution funding the government expires. The House is already in recess for the holidays until next year.

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