Agriculture appropriations first to go to conference committee

Thursday - 11/3/2011, 9:45am EDT

By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

The House is expected to vote today to send the bill covering fiscal-year 2012 spending for the Agriculture Department to a conference committee.

It's the first step in reconciling the House version of the appropriations bill with the Senate's.

The appropriations process — in which Congress sets spending levels for federal agencies — has been even more tangled this year than most.

The House passed its version of agriculture appropriations in June. Just this week, the Senate passed its version (bundled with two other appropriations bill in a so-called "mini-bus").

What explains such a big gap between the two chambers' approval? The normal budgeting process was hijacked by the August showdown over raising the government's borrowing limit. Out of that came the deficit-cutting supercommitee, which has garnered all the attention on Capitol Hill. Continued Congressional gridlock hasn't sped up the budgeting process.

The impending conference committee is the first since 2009, The Hill reports. Congress didn't pass traditional appropriations bills at all last year. Spending for fiscal-year 2011 was decided in a series of short-term continuing resolutions, including one that averted a government shutdown in April.

As if the process weren't already complicated enough, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, of Maryland, has indicated that a short-term continuing resolution will also likely be attached to whatever final bill comes out of the conference committee, according to The Hill.

Funding for the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, is set to expire Nov. 18 under a stopgap bill passed in September.

Track the appropriations process with Federal News Radio's Budget Tracker.