Congress Returns Next Week to Focus on Spending Agreement

September 3, 2012

By Carolyn Coleman

As the Congressional recess draws to an end and the national political conventions conclude, House and Senate members are preparing to return to Washington, DC, on September 10 for a short pre-election session. During the eight-day session, Congress is expected to focus on enacting a bipartisan spending agreement, also known as a continuing resolution (CR), in order to avoid a government shutdown—leaving other significant legislative issues for the post-election lame-duck session. After the brief session, Congress will recess until after the November elections.

Earlier this summer, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that congressional leaders had reached a deal to adopt a stop-gap spending bill that will fund the government through the first quarter of 2013. With the federal government's fiscal year ending on September 30, the measure is necessary because Congress has been unable to enact a single appropriations bill for the new fiscal year. Besides avoiding a government shutdown, the agreement allows lawmakers to avoid a repeat of last year's bitter fiscal spending fight immediately before and after the election.

"Leader Reid and I have reached an agreement by which the House and Senate will approve a six-month continuing resolution in September to keep the government operating into next year. During the August district work period, committee members and their staff will write legislation that can be passed by the House and Senate in September and sent to President Obama to be signed into law," Boehner said in a statement.

After October 1, the CR will extend government funding for six months at a pro-rated level of $1.047 trillion, the annual spending level for 2013 agreed to under last year's Budget Control Act. The length of the agreement also allows Congress to spend the lame-duck session figuring out what to do about tax cuts that expire at the end of the year, as well as how to deal with the $110 billion in defense and non-defense spending cuts set to go into effect at the beginning of 2013 as a result of the Budget Control Act.

For local governments, the agreement likely means, and NLC will urge, that federal funding for local projects and initiatives will continue at the current fiscal year's level at least until the CR expires in March 2013.

"This agreement reached between the Senate, the House and the White House provides stability for the coming months, when we will have to resolve critical issues that directly affect middle-class families," Reid said in a statement. "I hope that we can face the challenges ahead in the same spirit of compromise."

The White House also applauded the agreement.  

"The agreement reached by House and Senate leadership to fund the government through the first quarter of 2013 is a welcome development, and we are encouraged that both sides have agreed to resolve this issue without delay," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement. "The President has made clear that it is essential that the legislation to fund the government adheres to the funding levels agreed to by both parties last year, and not include ideological or extraneous policy riders. The President will work with leaders in both parties to sign a bill that accomplishes these goals."