Congress pledges no omnibus this year

Law keeps government open through Nov. 18

Congressional appropriators are promising to pass every fiscal 2006 agency budget individually for the first time since 2001.

As fiscal 2005 ended Sept. 30, only two spending bills'Interior and Energy, and the Legislative Branch'were law, while the Homeland Security De- partment appropriations bill was close to passage.

The Senate still must vote on four agency bills, including Defense and the Treasury, Transportation and Judiciary bills. The House has passed spending legislation for every department and is waiting for the Senate to finish up so members can iron out differences in conference committees.

Jenny Manley, the Senate Appropriations Committee spokeswoman, said the key is ample floor time to debate the bills.

On the House side, 'The chairman [Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.] wants to go toward regular order,' said John Scofield, House Appropriations Committee spokesman. 'Larger packages have larger chances for mischief. We are looking for greater transparency.'

Lawmakers late last month passed'and President Bush signed into law'H.J. Res. 68 to let agencies continue spending at 2005 levels through Nov. 18.

Missing deadlines

Congress has had to pass continuing resolutions every year since at least 2001, including three last year, to keep the government open because they could not finish the agency appropriations bills by Oct. 1, the beginning of the federal fiscal year.

'Our goal is to finish by Nov. 18, but we will extended the continuing resolution if we need to,' Manley said. 'We need the majority leader to give us the floor schedule.'

CIOs have said in the past that working under a continuing resolution has become routine. This year, CIOs and other agency officials have to pay even closer attention to their budgets because of the uncertainty of next year's allocation.

Even with the congressional committee's optimism, Stan Collender, managing director and federal budget expert in the Washington office of Financial Dynamics Business Communications, a communications consultancy based in London, said an omnibus bill is more than likely.

'They may pass a few more individual appropriations bills, but whenever they adjourn for the year, the remaining bills will be put into an omnibus when they get back,' Collender said. 'They can jam a lot of things into an omnibus that would be looked at more closely if they did it individually.'

Scofield said discretionary spending is the lowest in 20 years and they want to avoid pushing that number higher, which could happen with an omnibus.

Collender, however, dismissed Scofield's claim of low discretionary spending.

'These are problematic and curious claims,' Collender said. 'It's easy to hold spending low when you are funding other items like war in Iraq and Katrina relief through emergency appropriations.'

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