Continuing resolution versus omnibus funding

How would the two funding approaches differ?

In the days before the 2014 midterm congressional elections, Capitol Hill-watchers are still wondering how the lame duck session of Congress, scheduled to begin on Nov. 12, will play out. Will Congress “punt” and just vote to continue the current continuing resolution (CR) at 2014 levels — or work harder to enact as an omnibus bill at least some of the fiscal year (FY) 2015 bills the House and Senate Appropriations Committees prepared during the year?

Most observers would bet that Congress will do as little as possible, letting the results of the election sink in. The odds are good that the Senate will swing to the Republicans, as you have no doubt read. If the Republicans are able to take over leadership of Senate committees in January, they won't want to let the Democratic leadership call the shots in an appropriations conference committee during November and December, according to some.

Still, new House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has called for an omnibus, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., has argued the same. How would an omnibus differ  and would it be better  than a static CR?

The main difference is that agencies slated for spending increases in the bills that would be rolled into an omnibus would miss out on those increases under a CR or at least be delayed in receiving them. Two good examples are the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). A CR introduces uncertainty, since the agencies do not know what the final budget for the fiscal year will be, and any funding increase is only available when final funding is enacted. Under a CR, NIH in particular might be forced to push back its grant cycle, compressing the time available for researchers to apply.

The Congressional Quarterly (CQ) suggests other examples. Under a CR, the Department of Health and Human Services could struggle to find resources to house the thousands of Central American children claiming asylum in the United States. Under a simple CR, HHS would continue operating off a spending plan that was initially developed in mid-2012, before much of the border crisis had developed. The U.S. Secret Service, roundly criticized for the September White House break-in and other security breaches, must hire and train new staff in FY 2015 as it ramps up operations for the 2016 presidential campaign. It might not receive that extra money under another stopgap.

The question of whether additional funding for the Ebola outbreak should be considered emergency funding, therefore not subject to budget caps, is another issue that will come to the fore in the lame duck session. The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on the U.S. government response to the Ebola outbreak on Thursday, Nov. 6, 2 p.m. (EST). The hearing will besimulcast live.

Note: Do not forget to vote on Nov. 4.