WASHINGTON INSIGHT

Congress: Stuck in a Legislative Quagmire?

Andrea J. Fisher
Government Relations Manager
APWA Washington Office

Will Congress wrap up their business for the year by its target adjournment date of October 4? That remains to be seen and at the time of the drafting of this article, it was looking doubtful. With so many issues to resolve and particularly with President Bush's proposal to create a new Department of Homeland Security by January 1, 2003, Congress' schedule is packed. In addition to a full legislative calendar, November elections are coming, adding to the pressure being felt by congressional members to meet their quickly self-imposed October deadline.

Usually by this point in the year the appropriations process, which provides funding for authorized programs for the upcoming fiscal year, is in full swing. However, this year, the House and Senate have been unable to agree on a budget resolution and therefore are moving forward with no discretionary spending limits in effect. This may lead to future battles over funding levels and only add to the delay.

Current events have forced Congress to fill its schedule almost beyond capacity. There is great support in Congress and public pressure to move quickly on the creation of a new Department of Homeland Security. However, deciding the best avenue to pursue this goal may not be an agreeable process. Bringing together under one roof, responsibilities that are currently dispersed amongst over 100 different government organizations is an enormous undertaking and "the most significant transformation of the U.S. government in over a half-century," according to the Director of the Transition Planning Office for the Department of Homeland Security, Governor Tom Ridge.

So, if Congress cannot complete its work by October 4, what may happen? There are two viable options. One, Congress could pass a very long continuing resolution that would keep the government functioning until the 108th Congress convenes in early 2003. Or, following the elections in November, the members could return to Washington and complete any unfinished business and appropriations bills that may be lingering. Those returning to finish business after being ousted from office by their constituents are considered ineffective and thus the end of the 107th Congress would be declared a "lame-duck session." The latter option is a dreadful choice to congressional members. Only time will reveal the outcome. Stay tuned.