As in years past, Congress failed to complete its annual appropriations process, leaving HHS' funding for fiscal 2005 that began Oct. 1 unresolved until possibly after Jan. 1.
As Congress left for the election recess earlier this month, nine of 13 spending bills determining how much money federal agencies will receive for fiscal 2005 had yet to be finished, leaving many agencies, including HHS, essentially without funding for the year. Congress passed a resolution to keep funding at 2004 levels until Nov. 20 to keep the government running until then.
The full House last month passed an appropriations bill that would give HHS $63.2 billion while the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bill giving the agency $64.5 billion. The full Senate never took up the bill, leaving the agency in legislative limbo.
Congress is set to reconvene on Nov. 15, but because it would be for a lame-duck session after the November election, leaders may opt not to return until after Jan. 1. If members do return next month, the unfinished bills will in all likelihood be consolidated into an omnibus bill. If past years are any indication, passing such a bill may not happen for months. The outcome of the presidential election could factor into the budget process as well, said a Democratic staff member of the House Appropriations Committee who asked not to be identified.
That HHS appropriations have not been determined yet is no surprise, given that this is an election year in which funding for homeland security and defense received top priority, the staff member said. Historically, the bill setting funding for HHS has been difficult to pass because it contains some contentious amendments. The HHS appropriations bill also sets funding levels for the labor and education departments.
This year, the HHS, labor and education bills in both the House and the Senate included provisions to scrap overtime regulations that went into effect in August. The new regulations, critics say, would deny millions of workers, including many nurses, overtime pay. An amendment attached to a $140 billion tax bill also seeking to overturn the overtime regulations was scrapped earlier this month, but the amendment can be brought up again when lawmakers from both the House and the Senate meet to reconcile differences in the appropriations bills.