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As expected, the Senate this afternoon voted to table (i.e. kill) the House's stopgap funding bill by a vote of 59-36. The disagreement is over a provision that would partially offset funding for the FEMA disaster relief fund, which is running dry due to all of the natural disasters we've experienced rover the summer. Senate Democrats and some Republicans argue that approving disaster-relief offsets would set a bad precedent that could delay Congress from getting aid to victims of future disasters. Without the bill, FEMA will run out of funds as early as Tuesday and the entire federal government will shut down on Friday at midnight.

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With just nine days left until the federal government runs out of money, the House of Representatives this evening rejected a temporary spending bill that would keep the government operating. The vote was 195-230. Nearly all Democrats voted "no" due to deep cuts in disaster relief funding and a program that helps auto manufacturers make more efficient vehicles. Dozens of Republicans also voted "no" because they did not think the bill cut enough spending in general. The plan now appears to be to swap the cuts to the auto efficiency program with cuts from some other program and see if they can flip enough Democrats to pass it. But even if that works, we're still far from an agreement between the Senate and the House that will be needed to avoid a shutdown.

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The House is scheduled to vote on the 2011 continuing resolution today, but a new report out from the Congressional Budget Office may cause some problems for the Republicans. The leadership has been saying that the bill represents $38 billion in spending cuts below 2010 levels, less than what many Republicans would prefer, but still a significant amount given that the Democrats control the Senate and the White House, and want to keep spending at the same level as last year. But, according to the AP, the continuing resolution's cuts are just a small fraction of what the leadership has claimed:

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It has long been clear that congressional Republicans are interested in breaking the health care reform law, not improving it. They've already attempted to repeal it entirely and a recent press release from Speaker Rep. John Boehner [R, OH-8] describes, proudly, how the government funding deal that the Republicans negotiated "undermines" the law. Its a sensible strategy given that the Republicans don't have enough control of the government right now to fully repeal it -- if they can gut the law and make it fail, they'll win politically and, so the thinking goes, gain the influence to enact a full repeal.

But, unfortunately, the strategy requires killing some of the best ideas with potential for broad support since they may make people actually like the law when it takes effect. A prime example is the "Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan" (Co-Op) provision that would provide start-up resources for member-owned, non-profit health insurance cooperatives to provide competition with private insurers and potentially drive down costs. This provision, which has yet to go into effect, would be repealed under the government funding bill that is currently making its way through Congress.

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Not Out of the Woods Yet

April 13, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Despite the grand government funding bargain that appears to be able to get a majority vote in the House and 60 votes in the Senate, it's not a sure bet that the bill will be signed into law by midnight tomorrow in order to prevent a government shutdown. The House is not going to send the bill to the Senate until Thursday, which means that if a single senator chooses to filibuster, they can easily delay passage for days and push the debate on well past the Thursday night when the government's spending authority runs out.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

April 11, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

With a deal in place on funding the government for the rest of the fiscal year, the House and Senate now have to go through the motions of actually putting the appropriations legislation into effect. As of Monday morning, the House Appropriations Committee is still drafting the legislative language of the deal, and they're not expected to unveil an actual bill until late Monday night. As you'll see below, the bill is scheduled for a vote on Wednesday, which suggests that once again the House leadership is going to exploit the weak language of their "read the bill" rule and make the bill available for public review for far less than 72 hours, the minimum standard of public availability before votes they themselves promoted on the campaign trail. Of course, we'll be doing everything we can to get the bill text online for commenting and sharing as soon as it's released. With all of the controversial policy riders that have been involved in the closed-door negotiations with the bill, folks with interests in just about any major political issue are going to have something to look for in the text.

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The House Republicans' latest stopgap is now online at OpenCongress for you to read, mark up, and create custom, section-specific links to so you can have a more detailed discussions of it online:

H.R.1363 - Making appropriations for the Department of Defense for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2011, and for other purposes.

The full legislative text is here. Mouse over any chunk of text to add an in-line comment or create a custom permalink to that section that you can use to point others to it. If this bill gets a vote, it will happen sometime before the end of the day Thursday. With the massive amount of program cuts in this bill it's important that the public works together now to review it and find out what it would do before it's rushed to a vote. If you find something that you think might be worth noting, leave a comment to mark it and it will be filtered up to the list of most-commented-on provisions for others to find and review. We'll be highlighting the most noted provisions on this blog as well.

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In the midst of the conflict in Libya, the disaster in Japan, and the economic crisis at home that's still very much hitting the poor and middle class, a government shutdown could have dour consequences for the U.S. economy. Consumer confidence is already starting to dip and a shutdown could be just the thing to throw consumers and financial markets into a panic that could push us back into another recession. Yet, with just a handful of legislative days left for Congress to pass a budget and prevent a shutdown, Senate Democrats and the House GOP seem to be moving further apart from a deal. Instead of negotiating, they're preparing for the politics of the shutdown, each trying to pin the pain it would cause on the other party.

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As Congress comes back into session this afternoon to find a way to keep the government up and running, one of the cuts on the table will be the $34-million e-government fund, which finances the federal cloud computing initiative, data.gov, and usaspending.gov, among other things. If Congress cares about making federal spending more transparent while creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs and making the federal agencies more efficient, they'll restore funding for e-government and ensure that these programs stay alive.

We're happy to have added the Participatory Politics Foundation to an open letter from the Sunlight Foundation calling on House Republicans put the e-government funding back into the continuing resolution for the rest of the fiscal year. More than anything else the government spends money on, the e-government fund has the potential to improve society in profound and unpredictable ways. And it's relatively cheap -- like I said last week, a full year of e-gov costs just one-third of one day of missile attacks in Libya. If you care about keeping the e-gov fund alive, add your name/organization in the comments here and ask your members of Congress to restore full funding for the e-government fund in the FY 2011 continuing resolution and to make the fund a priority in future budgets.

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Dems Cave on Government Funding

March 28, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

When Congress comes back from vacation tomorrow, it's going to be another mad rush to keep the government up and running. This time, they have until April 8th to strike some kind of deal, either short-term or for the rest of the fiscal year. So far Democrats and House Republicans are about $50 billion off on how much they'd like to cut below non-security discretionary spending from fiscal year 2010, but according to reports, the Democrats are prepared to move further in the Republicans' direction.

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The open amendment process that House Republicans used to create their 2011 budget bill had its benefits. For example, it allowed a bipartisan group of rank-and-file Reps. to stand against party leadership and strip out funding for a costly alternative engine program for a fighter jet that the Air Force itself says is unnecessary. On the other hand, it gave members who were looking to fulfill promises to powerful political interests a platform to do so. The policy riders that were added to the budget bill are keeping Congress bogged down with stopgap funding to keep the government from shutting down and preventing them from engaging in serious negotiations over funding levels for the rest of the year. That in turns means there's no time to work on other important issues, like job creation and long-term debt reduction.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

March 13, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Another week, another scramble in Congress to pass a funding bill to keep the government from shutting down. This time, they're looking at a three-week stopgap bill that would cut about $2 billion per week from 2010 funding levels by essentially accelerating cuts that have been proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats. With bipartisan support on the specifics and a general preference among all to keep the government from shutting down, the bill is expected to pass in both chambers by wide margins and be signed into law before thethe current stopgap runs out on Friday. After that, House Republicans are planning votes on eliminating federal funding for NPR and canceling more housing programs. Click through for full details and links to learn more.

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Three-Week Stopgap in the Works

March 11, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Following the Senate's rejection of two long-term government funding proposals -- one from Republicans and one from Democrats -- congressional negotiators are back to working out another stopgap bill to keep the federal government from shutting down. The current stopgap bill is set to expire next Friday. According to reports, the plan now is to move a three-week funding extension that continues the same rate of cuts from the current extension -- about $2 billion per week below 2010 levels -- and gives Congress until early April to work out a longer-term solution.

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Military-Industrial Complex Wins Again

March 3, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

I know this is old news now, but Irregular Times has brought my attention to an overlooked vote that I think is worth noting. During the House's recent continuing resolution vote-a-rama, one of the amendments that was brought up for debate and quickly shot down was one from Rep. Ron Kind [D, WI-3] that would have eliminated two weapons systems progams that the military has said, in no uncertain terms, that it does not want. They are the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (a.k.a. the EFV) and the Surface Launch Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile System (a.ka. the SLAMRAAM) and eliminating them would save the government $13 billion, with most of the savings coming from the EFV elimination.

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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.

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