Some agencies count more than others

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Jan 30, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: It’s called the power of the purse. The Constitution says Congress has it. Of course, the White House is free to submit its own budget request. And the president said today he’ll do just that on Monday. He’s promising his fiscal 2008 budget will be a big step on the way to balancing the government’s books. But before that can happen lawmakers need to take care of their fiscal ’07 accounting. They’re hoping to do that by tomorrow. It’ll be about $463 billion worth of budgetary horsetrading. And Nancy Marshall Genzer reports what Congress giveth, Congress can taketh away.

NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: The Republican-controlled Congress only passed two appropriations bills last year. Most of the federal government has been kept going by stopgap funding measures, and they expire in mid-February. Democrats had suggested they would keep it simple and just freeze all agencies’ budgets at last year’s levels. But that’s not how it’s playing out.

STEVEN HESS: It’s like “Animal Farm.” All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.

That’s Steven Hess of the Brookings Institution. He says it should be no surprise that Democrats have spending priorities.

HESS: You go into it and you say, “Hey, what do we care about the most? Make your case to us.

The winners? Veteran’s healthcare, federal highways and federal grants for college students. But money for military base closures was slashed, and some foreign aid is frozen. Those not getting more money will likely feel short-changed. But budget analyst Stan Collender says they’ll just have to get over what he calls their Chicken Little syndrome.

STAN COLLENDER: The sky will not fall. It’ll kinda be like the Goldilocks budget. It’ll neither be too high nor too low.

Still, Congress could be opening a Pandora’s box by giving any agency more money. Maya MacGuineas of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget predicts the process will now bog down. She says it would have been easier to have frozen everybody’s budget.

MAYA MACGUINEAS: They’re really going to make this a negotiation where every involved congressman and senator has their own opinion about how much we should spend.

President Bush has an opinion, too. Some analysts say he could veto the spending bill, risking a government shutdown on February 15.

In Washignton, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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