Issue Date: March 7, 2011
Government On Life Support
Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed short-term legislation last week that cuts $4 billion from the federal budget and gives legislators until March 18 to hammer out a bill to fund the government until Sept. 30, which is the end of the fiscal year.
The bill temporarily resolves a fiscal 2011 budget impasse between House of Representatives and Senate leaders, which could have resulted in a government shutdown after March 4, when an earlier temporary funding bill for the government expired. Congress has yet to pass a fiscal 2011 budget and has had to rely on these so-called continuing resolutions to keep the government operating.
The impact of the $4 billion in spending cuts outlined in the short-term extension bill is likely to be small. Some $1.2 billion comes from programs that Obama himself sought to eliminate as unnecessary. The remainder is a mix of congressional earmarks, divided among nearly every government department except Defense.
Obama said he was pleased that Congress had reached a two-week agreement, adding, however, that “we cannot keep doing business this way.” He urged congressional leaders to meet with Vice President Joseph Biden and other White House officials to find common ground, which might prove to be difficult.
In late February, House Republicans, with little support from Democrats, passed 2011 budget legislation that would cut government spending by $61 billion for the remainder of the fiscal year and also nix many regulations unpopular with business (C&EN, Feb. 28, page 7). Senate Democrats strongly oppose the bill and have vowed to block its passage.
In statements last week after approval of the stopgap measure, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) appeared to remain far apart. Boehner held fast to the earlier House-passed measure and said that in voting for the stopgap bill, Reid and other Senate Democrats had been “forced to retreat.” Reid accused Boehner’s caucus of threatening a government shutdown “if they don’t get everything they’re demanding.”
Federal agencies have been mostly mum about the impact of a possible government shutdown. Agency officials note that they have been required since 1980 to have contingency plans in place for such an event, but they decline to provide details.
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