The government as usual, began the new fiscal year Sunday with big chunks of the budget still hung up in Congress and some agencies forced to limp along on stopgap spending authority until their appropriations clear.
The new congressional budget procedure, which moved the start of the fiscal year from july 1 to Oct. 1, was supposed to stop that. Authorizing legislation was to be enacted early each session, clearing the way for action on appropriation bills well before the start of the new budget year. It hasn't worked perfectly.
The number of activities Congress insists on reauthorizing annually continues to increase, while action on them continue to lag. The House Appropriations Committee takes the budget act seriously. It sent all the money bills to the floor for action before the end of June - whether the programs they fund were authorized or not.
As the government sets out on a new fiscal year this week, five of the 13 appropriation bills into which the federal government's budget is broken down have not cleared Congress. One other, public works, may be vetoed and would have to be run through again.
Three of the five bills - providing spending authority for the Treasury and Interior departments, the Postal Service ad the foreign aid program - have been approved by House-Senate conferences and should be sent to the president for his signature quickly.
Unless the foreign aid bill is delayed by a dispute over report language being drafted, the only bills that should be delayed beyond the end of this week are the two biggest - one for the Defense and the other for the departments of Labor and Health, Education and Welfare.
The Defense bill was held up by veto and the necessity to rewrite the bill authorizing purchase of military hardware.
The HEW bill has passed both bodies and will be considered by a House-Senate conference today. But it is expected to be delayed by the annual fight over tse of federal funds for abortion.
Last week the House passed a continuing resolution that would permit Defense, Labor and HEW to continue to function even though their spending authority expired Saturday midnight at the end of the fiscal year. The stopgap resolutions permits these deparments to continue spending through next March 31 at last year's levels or figures approved by House or Senate for this year, whichever is lower.
The Senate has not passed the resolution, and technically these agencies couldn't spend any money yesterday, but this has happened before withou difficulty. An agency can get along fairly well without spending authority for 10 days to two weeks before it would have to meet a payroll.
One branch of Congress sometimes holds up a continuing resolution in an effort to exert pressure for something it wants. The Senate may be trying to speed conference action on the HEW bill. But in the end, spending authority always has been voted in time to avoid a crisis."