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Two More Weeks of Federal Government

March 2, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate has followed up on the House’s action yesterday and passed a two-week stopgap spending bill that cuts about $4 billion from the current funding level, mostly by eliminating some of last year’s earmarks. The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 91-9, with 3 Democrats5 Republicans and 1 Independent-Democrat voting against. President Obama will sign the bill, averting a government shutdown that would have taken place otherwise beginning this Friday. But don’t be fooled — this is a temporary agreement and the negotiations to fund the government beyond these two weeks are extremely contentious. A government shutdown is still the most likely scenario.

The Republicans who control the House and the Democrats who control the Senate disagree on about $60 billion of spending in the $1.35 trillion discretionary portion of the budget. The House recently passed a a continuing resolution to fund the government for the rest of the year that would cut $61 billion from last year’s levels, which is about $100 billion less than what President Obama had requested for the year’s budget. The Democrats who control the Senate prefer more modest cuts, they want to essentially extend the 2010 funding levels, possible with some small new savings added, which would be about $41 billion less than Obama’s request. The Senate Democrats’ exact proposal has not been finalized yet.

But the spending level isn’t the only problem. The continuing resolution the House has handed off to the Senate includes almost the entire Republican social agenda. It would defund Planned Parenthood, block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, stop implementation of the FCC’s recent net neutrality rules, eliminate several of the White House’s policy directors, and more. There’s no way Senate Democrats would accept any of this stuff, and Obama has already said he would veto it if it was sent to him. But the Republicans aren’t going to give in easily either. As Jonathan Bernstein said, “If you’re a Republican congressman, once you’ve said that allowing funds to go to Planned Parenthood is basically just funding abortion (even if it’s not), how do you reconcile a ‘yes’ vote on a compromise bill that allows funding for that organization?” That’s just one example of dozens of similar issues.

For what it’s worth, Obama put out a statement today following the Senate passage of the stopgap measure calling for both sides to begin working out a long-term solution immediately, and to do it without letting social agenda get in the way:

I’m pleased that Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together and passed a plan that will cut spending and keep the government running for the next two weeks. But we cannot keep doing business this way. Living with the threat of a shutdown every few weeks is not responsible, and it puts our economic progress in jeopardy. That’s why I’m calling on Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress to begin meeting immediately with the Vice President, my Chief of Staff, and Budget Director so we can find common ground on a budget that makes sure we are living within our means. This agreement should cut spending and reduce deficits without damaging economic growth or gutting investments in education, research and development that will create jobs and secure our future. This agreement should be bipartisan, it should be free of any party’s social or political agenda, and it should be reached without delay.

We’ll see…

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