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Must Keep the Threat Alive

September 29, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Earlier today Congress officially disposed of the most recent budget standoff that was threatening to shut down the government. And without skipping a beat, they also began prepping for the next one.

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Shutdown Averted

September 26, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

After FEMA announced earlier in the day that it could stretch its remaining disaster funding out through Friday, the end of the fiscal year, the Senate reached a deal that will keep the government open and operating, for now at least. The deal sidesteps what was the sticking point -- whether or not extra FEMA funding for the rest of the year should be offset with cuts to other programs -- and, once passed by the House, will keep the government funded until November 18th.

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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 Real Problem With Funding the Government

April 7, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

After meeting late Wednesday night with House Speaker John Boehner [R, OH-8], Senate Majority LeaderHarry Reid [D, NV] took to the floor this morning and said that agreeing on a topline budget number isn't the thing blocking a deal on preventing a government shutdown Friday night, it's social policy. “Our differences are no longer over the savings we get on government spending, Reid said. “The only thing holding up an agreement is ideology.”

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When Failure's a Win, You Can't Lose

April 6, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

No matter where you stand on the government spending issue, you've got to be impressed by the Republicans' tenacity in the negotiations. They only control one chamber of Congress, but they've already secured the support of Senate Democrats and the Obama White House for $33 billion in cuts, which is more than the amount their leader, Rep. John Boehner [R, OH-8], had originally proposed. Now, with support for that level secured and a few days remaining before a shutdown, they've moved their target further, demanding something more like $40 billion in cuts or no deal. As National Journal reports, the Democrats are now close to accepting the new target:

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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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More Political Stunts as Shutdown Looms

April 5, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

With just four days of government spending authority left, House Republicans are working hard on prepping for a shutdown. It's not clear how hard they're working on preventing one.

Yesterday, the Republican leadership distributed pamphlets "outlining the procedures congressional offices should take during a government shutdown." And late last night they introduced another stopgap, this one designed for political, not legislative, success. The stopgap would last for one week and cut a whopping $12 billion from discretionary spending over that period. In order to protect it from cuts, the Defense budget would be extended for the full fiscal year and increased by $7.6 billion over last year's level.

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With no budget agreement in place and a government shutdown looming, House Republicans are bringing the Government Shutdown Prevention Act of 2011 up for a vote this afternoon. The bill seeks to prevent a shutdown by automatically deeming the House's budget bill to be the law of the land if the Senate fails to pass their own budget. So, shutdown prevented? Not quite.

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A reader writes in with a good question. On March 1 Republicans and Democrats in the Senate pulled together to pass a bill that would amend current law so that members of Congress do not receive pay during government shutdowns; why isn't the House acting on this bill so that if a government shutdown does occur Congress will take a pay cut like other federal employees? The answer, of course, is that it has gotten tied up in a ploy to score political points.

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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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Shutdown Averted?

February 25, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

It's looking like the government may not be shutting down after all, at least not on March 4. House Republicans today unveiled their bill to extend government funding for two weeks, and the response from Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid's office is considerably more positive than what we've been hearing lately. The bill would cut a little more than $4 billion from the current funding level over a two week period and it does not include any of the controversial language that the Republicans included in their full-year funding bill, like defunding Planned Parenthood or blocking the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.

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